The recent, but short-lived Twitter hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, consisted of ‘gross’ tray photos posted by teens. It’s critical to remember that a bad school lunch photo can even be taken in an outstanding program. How is that possible you ask? Because of the “Offer versus Serve” rule in school nutrition programs. This means that specific components must be offered to students, but they do not have to take them all. In school lunch for example, a complete reimbursable meal must include five components but students only have to take three. Beautiful, often unlimited, produce bars (like the one pictured below) may also offered, but students can walk right by them if they want.
Since “Offer versus Serve” is required in high schools (optional in K-8), it is possible for a teen’s tray to look pretty skimpy with the bare minimum servings of bread, meat (or alternate) and a ½ cup fruit or veggie (required for any lunch to be reimbursable). Students can also discard some items before taking a photo or even alter the food to make things look ‘grosser’ than they are. Remember these are teens who want to get their photo to go viral. This poster illustrates the requirements and recommendations in all National School Lunch Program sites.
In fact, most school food service programs – elementary through high school – offer multiple lunch entrées as well as different fruit and vegetable side dishes. Students often have a vegetarian choice as well as beef/pork and chicken/turkey – in addition to grad-n-go prepared salads and sandwiches. Savvy school nutrition operators know that their customers, especially teenagers, like choices – and they go to great lengths to provide them. The real trend in high schools is customization – just like teens get to have a quick-serve places like Subway and Pita Pit. Lake Stevens Nutrition Services (WA) is a leader in this style of service, using a wide variety of flavors, ingredients and colors in their ‘Fresh for You’ lines illustrated below. Lucky students who get this every day!! KUDOS to Director Mollie Langum and her staff for offering so many choices!