#GiveThanks 4 #RealSchoolFood: Let’s stop bashing #SchoolLunch

Dear #ThanksMichelleObama, Katie Couric, DoSomething.org, Mrs. Q, Jamie Oliver and all #SchoolLunch haters across the USA:

It’s time for the bashing of school meals to stop … once and for all! Why? For starters … since the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) have had a complete upgrade. Fresh, house-made meals – increasingly local and sometimes organic – are becoming the norm from coast to coast. This gorgeous #RealSchoolFood lunch from Sanders Elementary, Jefferson County Public Schools, includes #farmtoschool BBQ Chicken and Butternut Squash.

2014 Farm to School Lunch in Jefferson County Public Schools (KY)

2014 Farm to School Lunch in Jefferson County Public Schools (KY)

I am deeply saddened that not every school lunch looks or tastes this good and I absolutely want every child in America to have access to meals like this. So, #ThanksMichelleObama, if your school lunch leaves something to be desired, get off Twitter and go talk to your School Wellness Committee/Council about how improvements can happen. If your meals are really gross and inedible, contact your state office of child nutrition (list is online here) and report them. If you want the report it to me anonymous, tweet it to SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com and I will report them for you.

The National Farm to School Network is another really good reason to stop bashing school meals. With grants from USDA’s Farm to School Program, incredible changes in food systems are happening in communities small and large. Using 2011-12 data, the USDA Farm to School Census reported $385,771,134 in school meals dollars were directed to supporting local farmers in local communities. And we are talking the complete meal … beef, chicken, eggs, cheese, grains, fruits and veggies, plus milk that usually comes from local cows. Here’s what was on the menu when Alachua County Schools, Florida, kicked off their brand new Food Hub, established with a Farm to School grant and putting student to work growing food for school cafeterias. This looks like a menu from the latest foodie find in Chicago … but it is school lunch in North Florida!

2014 Menu for Food Hub Kickoff event, Alachua County Schools, Florida

2014 Menu for Food Hub Kickoff event, Alachua County Schools, Florida

The most difficult part of writing a blog post about school meals today is that there are so many outstanding examples … it’s difficult to choose just one or two or three. I can share hundreds gorgeous photos of #RealSchoolFood from every US state. You don’t have to take my word for it … you can see photographic evidence on School Meals That Rock Facebook page and scroll through thousands of examples on Pinterest. Seriously, go spend 10 minutes on School Meals That Rock Pinterest boards and you’ll see the deliciousness for yourself.

School Meals ROCK on Pinterest

School Meals ROCK on Pinterest

 

Does the current school food fight benefit hungry kids and hard-working nutrition professionals?

To all my friends and colleagues in the school nutrition world: AASA, AFHK, AHG, AND, CSPI, CIA, SNA, USDA, agriculture, industry and food advocates of all flavors … 

Those who know me professionally know that I have devoted my life to excellence in child nutrition programs. You know how strongly I believe that every child in American deserves to be well nourished and ready to succeed.

Those who know me personally will understand that my family situation (caring for my father in hospice at his home in California) prevents me from jumping into the current whirlwind of school lunch politics. I do not have the time or energy to sort through the conflicting claims and feeding frenzy of media messages to choose a particular side in this food fight. From what I have read, there are valid points on all sides. School meals are a complicated, nuanced issue, one that does not benefit from polarizing tweets and political rhetoric.

I am taking the “side” that I know best – one that often gets lost as the food fight heats up. I am supporting those who eat and cook school meals that rock. Millions of American children depend on school meals for the nourishment they need to succeed in academics, arts and athletics. Very often the quality of school breakfast, lunch, supper and snack far exceeds what they are fed at home or choose for themselves out in the world.

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, OR

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Thousands of dedicated, hardworking school nutrition professionals do their best every day to serve the healthiest meals possible –with reams of regulations, serious financial constraints, and complaints from every corner. I am not naïve; I know that nutrition nirvana in not found in every school. I also know that school nutrition programs do not serve “unlimited pizza and french fries every day,” kill kids with junk food, or want to roll back ten years of delicious improvements in school meals. Most are trying to develop farm to school contracts, plant school gardens and write grants for new kitchen equipment, while also helping kids to make healthier choices at school and home.

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

If I could wave a magic wand, I would ask everyone who cares about kids’ nutrition to take a deep breath, step back and think about how we can truly support school meals that rock. How can we find the middle ground without getting involved in a raucous election year debate that is more about being right than feeding hungry kids? How can we learn from districts that make smart nutrition work – recognizing vast differences among states and communities – to help those that are struggling? One nutrition solution does not fit all, but solutions in one district can help to inspire excellence in others.

We need many hands – from field to fork – to continue the positive changes in school nutrition programs. Legislators, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, dietitians, chefs, superintendents, school nutrition professionals, parents and students need to talk with each other more –and yell about each other less. If everyone agrees that some flexibility in the meal standards probably makes sense, then let’s sit down and figure how to make that happen.

I doubt anyone inside the beltway is going to listen to my advice. Positions are now entrenched and politics are driving decisions more than science. For everyone else, if you want to get involved in school nutrition, here are my suggestions.

  • Go eat a meal in your local school to experience the daily reality of feeding hundreds of hungry kids in minutes rather than hours.
  • Spend some time in a school kitchen listening to what works under current guidelines and where flexibility would be helpful.
  • Join your local school wellness committee, anti-hunger coalition or local food group to create strategies that work.

What am I going to do? Continue my virtual tour inviting Katie Couric – and anyone else who cares – to do school lunch in cafeterias around the country. Every day I discover a new school serving amazing choices, a new program planting actual seeds of healthy food or a new hero teaching children to cook delicious nutrition.

There’s No Need To Ban Flavored Milk From Schools

As a Registered Dietitian (RD) who has dedicated 30+ years of work and volunteer life to child nutrition, I believe flavored milk has a place in school meals. Disclosure: I am proud to work with the National Dairy Council and regional dairy councils, including Western Dairy Association. However, all the opinions here are my own. This blog was first published as Guest Blog: No Need to Remove Flavored Milk.

First, the facts about today’s flavored milk in schools: This is not the chocolate milk served ten – or even five – years ago. Dairy processors have responded to nutrition concerns and continually renovate their products.

Gonzales Unified, Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, Beans, Rice and fresh local tortillas

Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, beans, rice and fresh local tortillas

Secondly. the real nutrition issues: While some US children are getting too many calories for their activity levels, many are under-nourished. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed four nutrients of concern for both children and adults: calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber. Our low consumption of these nutrients can affect our health today and in the future.

Just like white milk, flavored milk provides three of the four nutrients of concern – all of them except dietary fiber. All types of milk are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, and good sources of potassium. All are nutrient-rich beverages, packed with many other nutrients kids need for strong bodies – protein and phosphorus, along with vitamins A, B12, riboflavin and niacin.

Banning flavored milk could potentially lead to a small reduction in calories consumed by kids at school. However, it also can have serious unintended consequences as documented in the recent study of 11 Oregon school districts. When flavored milk was removed, total daily milk sales declined by nearly 10 percent. Although white milk sales increased by 161 cartons per day, almost 30 percent was thrown away. Eliminating chocolate milk was also associated with about 7 percent fewer students eating school lunches.

I am not surprised by these results. They confirm previously published studies and the experience in many cafeterias. Flavored milk bans do all the wrong things in child nutrition programs. We need more nutrient-rich food for hungry students, more students who are well-nourished and ready to learn – and fewer expensive-to-replace nutrients dumped into trashcans.

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized 'Power Bowls' with fresh, local produce

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized ‘Power Bowls’ with fresh, local produce

Finally, working together to improve nutrition in schools: There has been a revolution in school nutrition programs across the USA, but we have still have plenty of work to do, especially in low-income, at-risk communities.

  • Want kids to consume less sugar at school? Let’s provide nutrition education for families (lots of sugar is brought to cafeterias from home). Let’s implement USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rules and shift the focus toward smarter choices everywhere on school campuses. Flavored milk is not the most significant source of added sugar in children’s beverages by a long shot. Soft drinks, sport drinks and juice drinks have more sugar and fewer nutrients.
  • Want students to drink more white milk? Forget bans. Let’s institute positive nutrition and culinary education into the curriculum, Let’s use smart marketing techniques to make white milk the more convenient choice at the front of milk coolers. Let’s not put nutrient-rich milk in the garbage and throw important nutrients out with misplaced concerns about small amounts of sugar.
  • Want healthier kids, schools and communities? Let’s put our passion for child nutrition toward effective partnerships on positive ways to improve access to delicious nutrient-rich at school and at home. Let’s look for ways to get kids active before, during and after school with programs like safe routes to school and active recess. Fuel Up To Play 60 is great way to bring nutrition and physical activity to schools – along with grants to purchase equipment and training to implement sustainable changes.

Let’s stop wasting our time, resources and food on negative nutrition campaigns. Let’s work together to make the learning connection for all children – because we know that healthier students are better students.

School Meals Are Rockin’ PINTEREST

TOP FIVE REASONS why Pinterest is perfect for promoting school meals:

  1. Social media trends are all about more visuals and fewer words. Sounds like the ‘power on pictures’ on the School Meals That Rock Pinterest page to us!
  2. You can go to just one board, like School Lunches That Rock, and see an inspiring array of school lunches from across the USA in one place.
  3. You can click on one link and see the truly incredible food being served in one district, like ITSMeals at Provo School District.
  4. Need some fresh ideas for serving food at school? See dozens of ideas on School Veggies That RockSchool Fruits That Rock or 40+ other boards.
  5. School Meals That Rock makes it easy and fun with our new district boards. We create a group board for you – and you pin as many photos as you want (we’ll re-pine the best of the best to our other boards too).

You get the advantage of our hundreds of followers – and we get to showcase the fabulous variety of foods served in schools today. Want ‘on board’? Just leave a comment or send a message to SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com – you’ll be up and pinning in no time!

Join School Meals That Rock on PINTEREST!

Join School Meals That Rock on PINTEREST!

Going Green from the Inside Out

Best wishes for healthy Happy St. Patrick’s Day filled with the luck of the Irish and lots of naturally green vegetables. 

  • Want to see how schools are serving delicious GREEN VEGGIES and much more? Follow us on Facebook: School Meals That Rock
  • Want the latest updates and fun tips on GREEN VEGGIES in school and more? Follow us on Twitter: @SchoolMealsRock 
  • Want hundreds of colorful photos of GREEN VEGGIES in school and much more? Follow us on Pinterest: School Meals That Rock
  • Want fabulous posters of GREEN VEGGIES and more for your school or office?       Visit USDA Team Nutrition Dig in Program – and poster page for downloads.
  • One example of fabulous Dig In Posters from USDA Team Nutrition

    One example of fabulous Dig In Posters from USDA Team Nutrition

    Want the latest updates and fun tips on GREEN VEGGIES in school and more? Follow us on Twitter: @SchoolMealsRock 

Kale Chips for 8,000 and Other Farm-to-School Successes

A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post Green on October 14, 2013

The real food deliciousness of Farm to School efforts benefits everyone: The farmers and ranchers who grow food for local districts, school nutrition directors who know exactly where their food comes from, and – most of all – millions of students who enjoy fresh food right on their school trays.

The three pillars of a sustainable farm to school program are generally seen as Cafeteria, Classroom and Community. But there is fourth, equally important C – Champions! Successful farm to school programs are started, nurtured and harvested by champions at every step from the field to table. Here’s how three directors – three very cool school lunch dudes – from Maine to Montana are growing impressive farm to school numbers.

Thanks to Nutrition Services director Tyler Goodwin, students in the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District on the coast of southern Maine have a personal relationship produce on their lunch trays. It comes from the Spiller Farm, just two miles down the road and students help to pick it, clean it and prepare it. During September 2013 trips to the farm, hundreds of school kids picked 15 bushels (450 pounds) of green beans, 18 bushels (900 pounds) of red potatoes and 15 bushels (720 pounds) of apples (enough to supply the entire District for the next several months).

Maine student pick produce in local fields

Maine student pick produce in local fields

In fall 2013, Chef Tyler froze 10 bushels of carrots, also picked by student helpers. The final yield was 450 pounds of freshly picked, lightly steamed, very local frozen carrots for winter meals like veggie stir-fry, peas-n-carrots and candied carrots. Total time from field to freezer was less than four days, with a substantial decrease in overall carbon footprint. The environmental impact is important to the district’s Green Team, headed by 7th grade science teacher Saul Lindauer. The team is learning about and working to support centuries of farming heritage in Wells. According to Goodwin, fresh local produce makes a real difference in cafeterias too. “What I have noticed in all schools is healthier choices being made, kids are automatically selecting the required fruit or vegetable with lunch, and less waste than last year,” he reports.

Deep in the apple orchards of Central Michigan, Dan Gorman, Food Service Director in Montague/Whitehall Schools focused on some big farm to school numbers too – world record numbers in this case! On October 24, 2013, he and the districts’ 4,000 students – plus at least 14,000 more in Muskegon County – regained the World Record for the “most people simultaneously eating an apple at one time.” Muskegon County held the world record (9,329) until last May when children in New Zealand schools upped it to 17,064 with the help of an apple company. Now the Michigan apple crunchers are back on top of the world record with 19,087!!

Michigan students love their apples!!

Whitehall, Michigan, students love their apples!!

Promoting healthy snacking, supporting local agriculture and generating record-breaking excitement are just some of Dan’s everyday efforts to bring fresh, local food to kids. When he switched the district’s milk contract to a local dairy that raises its own cows and crops, the farm was able to hire four new workers. In the elementary cafeterias, monthly Harvest Days highlight Michigan fruits, vegetables and herbs. Students get to touch, smell and taste fresh items with their lunch, guided by an adult community member or high school mentor. As chair of the 1 in 21 Education Committee, Gorman is – as always – focused on a much bigger goal. “Going for a world record is as American as apple pie, but the more important goal is making Muskegon county the healthiest county in Michigan by 2021,” he says.

Now, about the kale chips for 8,000: It happened for the second time on October 2, 2013, to celebrate National Kale Day in Missoula County Public Schools, Montana. In 2012, on a ‘dare’ from Jason Mandela of the PEAS (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society) Farm, Food and Nutrition Supervisor Ed Christensen offered baked kale chips to every student in the district. While not shy about saying his kale chips are “the best,” Ed was impressed by how much the kids liked them. “It’s really pretty simple,” he says. “We use freshly picked kale, toss it with oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake slowly.” While olive oil adds nutty flavor and USDA commodity oil works fine, Christensen also likes to use Montana-grown safflower on his kale chips.

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Ed Christensen makes kale chips for 8,000

Kale is big on Christensen’s local veggie list because it’s so hardy, often the last thing harvested from the PEAS Farm. Chips are a great way to serve kale because they are like potato chips to kids. On a recent ‘smack down’ with a tasty raw kale salad, the crunchy chips won hands down. During this year’s Kale-abration, Ed saw savvy 3rd graders crushing the chips onto their pizza. About that pizza, the crust is 100 percent scratch, whole grain made with local Wheat Montana Prairie Gold flour and turkey pepperoni. Missoula schools are currently developing a scratch sauce to incorporate house-grown onions and herbs. Clearly Ed wants to do farm to school as many ways as possible – in a place with a growing season of about four months!!

Being a school nutrition director is a tough enough job without adding all the extra details of a farm to school program. Despite the demands, thousands of directors across the U.S. have stepped up to the plate — or lunch tray — to do what Tyler, Dan and Ed do in their districts. Why? So students can have the freshest, best tasting, most nutritious meals possible and be fit, well-nourished and ready to succeed.

Follow Dayle Hayes, MS, RD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SchoolMealsRock

Eat. Play. Learn. H is for HUNGRY.

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

H is for HUNGRY

When I hear that schools are closed for days in a row, my immediate thought is about what those children will eat when they do not have access to school meals. If children regularly come to school hungry, it means that they do not have access to food at home. And, when the weather is bad, their families may be even less able to shop for groceries or visit a food bank. Honestly, for millions of American children, a snow day may be a hungry day. Preliminary 2013 USDA data shows that an average of 18.9 million children ate a free school lunch daily and 10.1 million ate a school breakfast on average.

The numbers in the previous paragraph also tell another story as well – that is the enormous ‘breakfast gap’ of 8.8 million children who are eligible but are not receiving a free breakfast. These are the children who may to be too hungry to learn as reported in the deeply disturbing Hunger in Our Schools: Teachers Report 2013 by No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength. If nearly 73 percent of teachers regular try to teach hungry children, we are a very serious educational problem in our schools. The simple fact is that hungry children cannot focus, concentrate and learn. School breakfast is one obvious solution and I applaud the administrators and educators who are ramping up their efforts to expand the program. Michigan State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is is a true nutrition hero for promoting the “First Fuel” Breakfast Challenge in his state – and I am proud to be part of the Michigan Team Nutrition training for this effort. Too hungry to learn is unacceptable for any child in Michigan, Montana or any other US state.

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S TEACHERS REPORT 2013

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S
TEACHERS REPORT 2013