Categorized | Child Nutrition, Featured, Operations

What’s For Lunch on School Menus?

Posted on 16 September 2010 by Agile Chef

The infamous school cafeteria menu has survived several presidencies, but it won’t be around much longer if the Obama administration has anything to do with it. With the obesity rate rising among children, the administration is making every effort to overhaul the much scrutinized school lunch program, which means stricter guidelines for cafeteria operators.

Transforming School Lunches

A growing number of children across the country (31 million to be exact) participate in school lunch programs every day, and as they shuffle back to school this fall, they’ll realize their once favorite sweet and salty snacks will be hard to come by, and some may even be asking, “where’s the beef?”

In response to changing school nutrition legislation, cafeteria operators nationwide have started trading the tater tots for sweet potatoes, and using leaner proteins in place of red meat. And Let’s Move, First Lady Michelle Obama’s nationwide initiative to raise a healthier generation, can be credited for jump starting this nutrition revolution.

Cool*Cafs in Schools

In Fall 2008, leading foodservice provider, ARAMARK Education, pilot tested Cool*Caf in 16 schools. This kid-friendly lunchroom-dining environment features ARAMARK’s wellness menus alongside a fresh fruit and veggie bar. Pilot results showed a 50% leap in fruit and veggie consumption in some schools, and a 10-30% increase in meal participation, a key factor for schools seeking to increase federal funding for their food service program. This concept was so well received that in 2009 ARAMARK began the launch of 500 Cool*Cafs in schools across the country.

Healthier Lunchroom Favorites

More recently this past July, fellow advocates, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), hosted their 64th Annual National Conference. Thousands of school foodservice professionals gathered to learn how changing legislation would impact their cafeterias, and how to put a healthier twist on lunchroom favorites.

You can cut the fat and calories your school’s cafeteria serves, by following these healthy tips:

  • Eliminate foods with added trans fats
  • Replace pre-packaged items with nutrient-dense snacks
  • Reduce the use of sugar and salt-laden processed foods
  • Add more whole grains, fruits and veggies
  • Use lean protein like fish, chicken and turkey instead of red meat
  • Offer low-fat or non-fat diary options
  • Make heart healthy and moist desserts with bean purée

With a few easy substitutions you can still serve lunchroom favorites, and change the way kids think about healthy eating:

  • Skip the chips. Some kids find vegetables and fruit more appealing when they’re sliced or bite sized. Offer a raw medley of baby carrots, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes with ranch dipping sauce, or a seasonal berry salad.
  • Add jicama. A cousin of the sweet potato, this versatile, sweet and crispy root can be eaten raw, gives texture to both fruit and vegetable salads, or can be used as a dip carrier instead of chips.
  • Burgers and fries? Bake sweet potato fries and ground turkey patties, for a heart-healthy, and savory version of this classic.
  • Pizza or mac & cheese? Use enriched whole wheat or multi-grain dough and pasta, 1% milk, and park-skim cheeses

With a little imagination, you can rework your cafeteria menu, and provide tastier, healthy options both students and their parents will appreciate.

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