School nutrition – everything from meals and snacks to gardens and education – continues to be a hot topic. Everyone – from the First Lady and Katie Couric to Jamie Oliver and 5-star generals – is talking about the importance of school meals for children’s health, academic performance and well-being. All of this media attention, new USDA regulations, and dramatic changes in school nutrition are truly tasty news for the millions of families who want healthful foods for their children.
As we head into National School Lunch Week 2014, it’s clear that programs from coast to coast have embraced the slogan “Get into the Game of School Lunch.” The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which serves 30+ million students every day, is taking school lunch to delicious new levels. Thanks to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, thousands of dedicated school nutrition professionals and hundreds of health, nutrition and industry partners, students now have access to an amazing variety of:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, often local, sometimes from as close as a school garden. In the Oyster River School District (NH), they make pizza made with local veggies and school-grown herbs.
- Whole grains, including freshly baked whole wheat rolls, whole grain rich pasta, and gluten-free options. In Lake Stevens, WA, students can customize brown rice and pasta bowls with their favorite veggies, meats and sauces.
- Lean proteins like local beef, black bean burritos, humus and chef salads with eggs, cheese and chicken. Fort Bragg (CA) Schools join Sitka (AK) and Oregon districts in serving locally caught fresh food in boat to school programs.
- Greek yogurt parfaits and berry smoothies in addition to low-fat/fat-free milk with every meal. Yogurt bars with fresh fruit are being served in Gooding, ID, and Windham-Raymond, ME.
That’s a tiny taste of how schools help students to be well-nourished, healthy, and ready to succeed. What’s next on the horizon? With USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rule being implemented nationwide, other foods on campus will be healthier too! Parents with busy schedules can trust the options offered for breakfast, lunch and snacks at school. Kid-friendly things are happening in school kitchens and cafeterias all across the country – and your children can “Get in the Game” during NSLW and all year-long!
If you have questions about your school’s meals or wonder when you school will offer the options listed above, discuss your concerns directly with the school’s nutrition director first. Listen carefully to what they are already doing and find out how you can work together for the future health of all students. The real school nutrition revolution has been going on for years. “Lunch ladies” (and gentlemen) have been working hard to serve up school meals with delicious nutrition to fuel strong bodies and smart brains.