10 Reasons to Ignore School Lunch Haters and Support #RealSchoolFood

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

To all the mommy bloggers, food celebrities, academic researchers, restaurant chains and media channels who want to blame School Lunch for the ills of the US food system (while promoting their own products, endorsements and programs), it’s time to STOP. Trying to refute your inaccurate claims, staged photos, out-date sound bites and negative descriptions is a waste of precious time we could be working together to support #RealSchoolFood for real hungry kids all across America. If you really want to improve school meals, here are 10 effective ways to support the hard-working school nutrition HEROES who are reshaping local and national food systems, teaching kids about where food comes from, and feeding millions of children their best meals of the day – every day – in thousands of schools across our country.

#1: Please get some real photos of #RealSchoolFood. Your staged, stock and decades-old examples do a terrible disservice to the dedicated chefs and cooks who offer gorgeous cafeteria lines, produce bars and grab-n-go options to students every day. Need help finding photos? We’ve got your back with thousands of photos on Facebook and PinterestTray Talk also features #RealSchoolFood from hundreds of districts. These gorgeous salads are from Polk County Schools in Florida.

Polk Salads

New Chopped Salads on the menu this Fall! Asian Chicken and Buffalo Chicken. Polk School Nutrition, Polk County, Florida

#2: Please move on from ‘ketchup is a vegetable.’ Seriously people, check your facts. This was a stupid proposal in 1981 which never made it into a regulation. Before you complain, learn the details of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010. There are specific requirements for five different vegetable sub-groups, including Red-Orange. This is how schools are promoting colorful produce and #RealSchoolFood to students all across Tennessee this fall.

These gorgeous banners, shown here by Chelsea Cordes, RDN, in Shelby County Schools, are a healthy collaboration between the Department of Education and the Governor’s Foundation for a Healthy Tennessee.

#3: Please read the research comparing school lunch to lunches brought from home. Studies from Baylor (TX), Tufts (MA) and Virginia Tech (VA) confirm that lunches brought from home rarely meet the tough nutrition standards now required in all USDA school meals programs. Many contained sugary drinks and snack foods that cannot be sold as #RealSchoolFood.

A Tufts study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed lunches brought from home had lots of packaged food and sugary drinks

A Tufts study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed lunches brought from home had lots of packaged food and sugary drinks

#4: Please dig deeper into the causes of food waste in schools. Kids throw away perfectly picked organic oranges and bento box baby bananas with cute notes written on them – just like they throw away school lunch items. Two of the best solutions to reducing food waste in cafeterias work for #RealSchoolFood and lunches brought from home: Recess Before Lunch and Longer Lunch Periods

#5: Please recognize that school nutrition professionals frequently do not have needed administrative support. School nutrition heroes have a tough balancing act with  complex government regulations, limited budgets and limited input into school schedules that affect recess options and the length of lunch periods. Like you, they care deeply about feeding children well – and are trying to do the best they can with what they have. Maybe you can work together on a grant for a salad bar or school garden? Many of the #RealSchoolFood veggies served in Kalispell, Montana, schools come directly from the school garden.

Kalispell, Montana, Schools feature greens grown at school. A fabulous director and FoodCorps Montana work together to grow ‪#‎SchoolGardens‬, serve ‪#‎RealSchoolFood‬ and nourish healthy eating habits.

Kalispell, Montana, Schools feature greens grown at school. A fabulous director and FoodCorps Montana work together to grow ‪#‎SchoolGardens‬, serve ‪#‎RealSchoolFood‬ and nourish healthy eating habits.

#6: Please talk WITH rather than AT school nutrition directors. Arrange a friendly meeting with your local nutrition director. Find out about their everyday challenges and what changes they would make if they could – maybe new equipment or more local foods. Find out how you can work together to do what’s best for kids. If you look for common ground, you are likely to find it. Believe every school should have a school garden? Get out there and help a school grow one for #RealSchoolFood to be served in your district. The amazing Waterford Edible Schoolyard has dozens of amazing volunteers, especially during the busy summer months.

THANKS to the Waterford Edible Schoolyard: "72 pounds delivered to the kitchen today - bringing our total to 175+ lbs since June! The peas are in with a vengeance , tomatos are starting to ripen, and we can't seem to pick the cucumber and zucchini fast enough smile emoticon."

THANKS to the Waterford Edible Schoolyard: “72 pounds delivered to the kitchen today – bringing our total to 175+ lbs since June! The peas are in with a vengeance, tomatoes are starting to ripen, and we can’t seem to pick the cucumber and zucchini fast enough smile emoticon.”

#7: Please be realistic because nutrition perfection is just not possible on $1.50-1.75 per meal. That’s how much the average school district has to spend directly on food. While meal prices and USDA reimbursement rates provide more money, that also goes to pay for labor, equipment and overhead costs. If you want all organic, GMO-free, clean-label, local, scratch-cooked meals, you are going to have to help schools lobby local, state and federal decisions makers to provide more money for school meals. 2015 is a critical year for child nutrition and childhood food insecurity. This fall Congress will reauthorize funding for the critical local programs that support healthy children, schools and communities, including School Breakfast Programs, National School Lunch Programs, WIC Programs and Farm to School Programs. 2015 is a time to advocate for fresh, local, delicious #RealSchoolFood rather than pointing fingers and telling families “avoid school lunch like the plague.” THIS is #RealSchoolFood lunch in Greenville, South Carolina.

On August 20, 2015, Greenville County Schools students will have the option to choose from Turkey Pot Roast with a fresh baked roll, Scratch-made Mac-N-Cheese, a Fresh Fruit and Veggie Bar with four options of fresh fruit and four options of steamed vegetables, and ice cold milk!

On August 20, 2015, Greenville County Schools students will have the option to choose from Turkey Pot Roast with a fresh baked roll, Scratch-made Mac-N-Cheese, a Fresh Fruit and Veggie Bar with four options of fresh fruit and four options of steamed vegetables, and ice cold milk!

#8: Please eat a #RealSchoolFood lunch. Send a message with your location to SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com and I’ll recommend a #RealSchoolFood cafeteria nearby you can enjoy hot lunch or a grab-and-go salad like these from Provo School District, Provo, Utah.

Grab n Go Salads at the secondary level and Chef Salads at the elementary level. First day choices first day delicious!

Grab n Go Salads at the secondary level and Chef Salads at the elementary level. First day choices first day delicious!

#9: Please consider the consequences of your criticisms. Be respectful and ditch blanket descriptions of school food like “hideous piles of indistinguishable vegetables” and “avoid like the plague.” When you use negative and judgmental language, it makes parents feel badly about letting their children eat at school, even if they can’t afford to pack a meal from home. Dedicated school nutrition heroes deserve your respect and thanks for all their training and hard work to feed kids #RealSchoolFood every day. This is why they do it – smiling face of hungry students, like this girl in Bradley County Schools, Cleveland, Tennessee.

North Lee Elementary Pre-K. Beautiful, healthy tray for smiling faces.

North Lee Elementary Pre-K. Beautiful, healthy tray for smiling faces.

#10: Please be transparent about the companies who sponsor your post or blog or program. If your blog ends with photos of branded food products and lunch boxes, please indicate if they are sponsors or advertisers. I do consulting work for a variety of agricultural groups and a few companies, which are all disclosed below. Not a single one of them supported this post or provided input in any way.

  • Board Member/Advisory Panel
    • American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Breakfast Council
    • Kellogg’s Breakfast Council
  • Consultant
    • US Department of Agriculture and Team Nutrition Program
    • Multiple state departments of education and agriculture
    • California Walnut Commission
    • The Mushroom Council
    • Cherry Marketing Institute
    • American Egg Board
    • CLIF bar
    • Chobani Yogurt
    • Bush Beans
  • Speakers Bureau
    • National Dairy Council and state/regional dairy councils
    • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and state beef councils

10 Ways School Lunch Haters Can Get Off Their Soapboxes and Support #RealSchoolFood

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

To all the mommy bloggers, food celebrities, academic researchers, restaurant chains and media channels who want to blame School Lunch for the ills of the US food system (while promoting their own products, endorsements and programs), I’ve had it. Trying to refute your inaccurate claims, staged photos, out-date sound bites  and negative descriptions is a waste of precious time we could be working together to support #RealSchoolFood for real hungry kids all across America. Really want to improve school meals? Here are 10 effective ways to support the hard-working people who are reshaping local and national food systems, teaching kids about where food comes from, and feeding millions of children their best meals of the day – every day in thousands of schools across our country.

#1: Please get some real photos of #RealSchoolFood. Your staged, stock and decades-old examples do a terrible disservice to the dedicated chefs and cooks who offer gorgeous cafeteria lines, produce bars and grab-n-go options to students every day. Need help finding photos? We’ve got your back with thousands of photos on Facebook and Pinterest (some with recipes like this Roasted Edamame SaladTray Talk also features #RealSchoolFood from hundreds of districts.

Eating their way through the alphabet for National Nutrition Month, Windham Raymond School District (RSU#14) in Maine, served Roasted Edamame Salad (adapted from an Alton Brown Recipe).

Eating through the alphabet for National Nutrition Month, Windham Raymond School District (RSU#14) in Maine, served Roasted Edamame Salad (adapted from an Alton Brown Recipe).

#2: Please move on from ‘ketchup is a vegetable.’ Seriously people, check your facts. This was a stupid proposal in 1981 which never made it into a regulation. Before you complain, learn the details of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010. There are specific requirements for five different vegetable sub-groups, including Red-Orange.

Sautéed and Steamed Georgia-Grown Green Beans and Tomatoes, Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools, Carrollton, Georgia·

Sautéed and Steamed Georgia-Grown Green Beans and Tomatoes, Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools, Carrollton, Georgia·

#3: Please read the research comparing school lunch to lunches brought from home. Studies from Baylor (TX), Tufts (MA) and Virginia Tech (VA) confirm that lunches brought from home rarely meet the tough nutrition standards now now required in all USDA school meals programs. Many contained sugary drinks that cannot be sold in schools.

A Tufts study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed lunches brought from home had lots of packaged food and sugary drinks

A Tufts study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed lunches brought from home had lots of packaged food and sugary drinks

#4: Please dig deeper into food waste in schools. Kids throw away perfectly picked organic oranges and bento box baby bananas with cute notes written on them – just like they throw away school lunch items. Two of the biggest solutions to food waste in cafeterias work for school lunches and lunches brought from home: Recess Before Lunch and Longer Lunch Periods

#5: Please recognize that school nutrition professionals frequently do not have needed administrative support. School nutrition heroes have a tough balancing act with  complex government regulations, limited budgets and limited input into school schedules that affect recess options and the length of lunch periods. Like you, they care deeply about feeding children well – and are trying to do the best they can with what they have. Maybe you can work together on a grant for a salad bar or school garden.

Poudre School District, Fort Collins. Colorado, offers daily produce bars with extensive choices.

Poudre School District, Fort Collins. Colorado, offers daily produce bars with extensive choices.

#6: Please talk WITH rather than AT school nutrition directors. Arrange a friendly meeting with your local nutrition director. Find out about their everyday challenges and what changes they would make if they could – maybe new equipment or more local foods. Find out how you can work together to do what’s best for kids. If you look for common ground, you are likely to find it. Believe every school should have a school garden? Get out there and help a school grow one.

Colonial School District, New Castle, Delaware, gets middle students excited about planting and growing vegetables.

Colonial School District, New Castle, Delaware, gets middle students excited about planting and growing vegetables.

#7: Please be realistic because nutrition perfection is just not possible on $1.50-1.75 per meal. That’s how much the average school district has to spend directly on food. While meal prices and USDA reimbursement rates provide more money, that also goes to pay for labor, equipment and overhead costs. If you want all organic, GMO-free, clean-label, local, scratch-cooked meals, you are going to have to help schools lobby local, state and federal decisions makers to provide more money for school meals. 2015 is a critical year for child nutrition and childhood food insecurity. This year Congress will reauthorize funding for the critical local programs that support healthy children, schools and communities, including School Breakfast Programs, National School Lunch Programs, WIC Programs and Farm to School Programs. 2015 is a time to advocate for fresh, local, delicious #RealSchoolFood rather than pointing fingers and telling families “avoid school lunch like the plague.”

Oakland Unified School District, Nutrition Services participates in CALIFORNIA THURSDAYS™ Day, along with many of the state's largest districts. So many delicious reasons to SMILE about ‪#‎SchoolMeals‬ in OUSD!

Oakland Unified School District, Nutrition Services participates in CALIFORNIA THURSDAYS™ along with many of the state’s largest districts.

#8: Please eat a #RealSchoolFood lunch. If you need a recommendation for a school cafeteria near you, send me an email at SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com.

Trish McDonald from Sky Oaks Elementary School (Minnesota District 191) sent this, saying that their kitchen "makes the BEST Vegetarian salads!"

Trish McDonald, Sky Oaks Elementary School (Minnesota District 191) says they “makes the BEST Vegetarian salads!”

#9: Please consider the consequences of your criticisms. Be respectful and ditch blanket descriptions of school food like “hideous piles of indistinguishable vegetables” and “avoid like the plague.” When you use negative and judgmental language, it makes parents feel badly about letting their children eat at school, even if they can’t afford to pack a meal from home. It also makes dedicated school nutrition heroes feel like just giving up.

The are no hideous piles of veggie in Reynolds School District, Portland, Oregon. There are beautiful cups of eye-appealing produce for students to grab.

There are no ‘hideous piles’ of veggies in Reynolds School District, Portland, Oregon. There are beautiful cups of eye-appealing produce for students to grab.

#10: Please be transparent about the companies who sponsor your post or blog or program. If your blog ends with photos of branded food products and lunch boxes, please indicate if they are sponsors or advertisers. I do consulting work for a variety of agricultural groups and a few companies, which are all disclosed below. Not a single one of them supported this post or provided input in any way.

  • Board Member/Advisory Panel
    • American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Breakfast Council
    • Kellogg’s Breakfast Council
  • Consultant
    • US Department of Agriculture and Team Nutrition Program
    • Multiple state departments of education and agriculture
    • Idaho Barley Commission
    • Mushroom Council
    • American Egg Board
    • CLIF bar
    • Chobani Yogurt
    • Bush Beans
  • Speakers Bureau
    • National Dairy Council and state/regional dairy councils
    • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and state beef councils

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: MMMMM-Mushrooms in Schools

If you looked carefully at two of the salad bars in yesterday’s #RealSchoolFood post on Salad Bars Bring on the Produce, you may have noticed that they included fresh mushrooms. In the interest of full disclosure, I am proud to work as a nutrition consultant to the Mushroom Council on school-related issues – and I love to eat mushrooms of all types, raw, cooked and dried.

Although it might not seem immediately obvious, mushroom have a lot to offer to school meals. And, the Mushroom Council has made a real commitment to helping school nutrition programs maximize their use of mushrooms in fun and delicious ways with recipes and success stories on the Mushrooms in Schools website. My favorite photo is these fabulous ‘lunch ladies,’ part of ‘Mushroom Week’ in a New Orleans public school where students got learn about mushrooms in the classroom and eat them in the cafeteria. The student-made aprons are marvelously mushroom-y!

Lusher Elementary Lunch Ladies - ready for 'Mushroom Week' in New Orleans

Lusher Elementary Lunch Ladies – ready for ‘Mushroom Week’ in New Orleans

Chef Robert Rusan, winner of a 2015 School Nutrition Foundation HERO Award may not wear a mushroom covered apron but he certainly knows how to maximize the unique umami potential of mushrooms. Known as the fifth taste, umami – the savory flavor of mushrooms – helps Rusan reduce the sodium in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights meals. Salads, stir-fries, pizza, meatballs and pasta dishes – mushrooms can be added effectively to many of students favorite meals and Rusan’s farm to school delights! Read about Chef Rusan’s Mushroom Success, as well as others, online.

Mushroom Creations from Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, Missouri

Mushroom Creations from Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, Missouri

For school nutrition directors, as well as home cooks, blendability is one of the most exciting features of mushrooms. Finely diced or chopped mushrooms taste, look, act and perform like ground meat. When mixed with ground beef and other meats, the nutritional profile of finely diced mushrooms allows schools to serve students some of the favorite foods, while meeting the new Meal Patterns. In Cincinnati Public Schools, Director Jessica Shelley diverted USDA beef for further processing with USDA Foods IQF Mushrooms to make a burger patty with beef and mushrooms. Lower calories, fat, and sodium allowed for additional menu choices, including a Turkey Bacon Cheeseburger which fits guidelines – and lower costs as well. Read more about this blendability success story online or below.

Mushroom Blendability Success Story from Cincinnati Public Schools

Mushroom Blendability Success Story from Cincinnati Public Schools

For more about the availability of mushroom blended products, check with your meat processor. Several companies have multiple products. For more about creating your own blended items, recipes and news, visit Mushrooms in Schools.

 

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

What’s the Real School Lunch News? 31+ Million American Children Get More Vegetables

What’s really sad about the recent article on the state of U.S. school lunch from the Fed Up campaign is that is so-five-years-ago. Using out-of-date statistics, misleading photos, and images that were not even from high schools, this campaign fails to expose the real truth about school lunch today – that it is awesome and kids are eating it up!

Personally, I’m fed-up with reports on school lunch that ignore the real revolution in cafeterias. Where have these school lunch critics been? Clearly not dining in the districts that are featuring produce from schools gardens – or doing farm-to-school, boat-to-school (in AK, OR and NH), and Montana’s recent beef-to-school campaign. What’s really happening in school lunch is that the nearly 32 million students who eat it daily are getting an incredible variety of often local, increasingly organic produce, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. According to the savvy school nutrition directors who observe their teen customers closely, they are eating it all up!!

Here’s a taste of what’s really happening with teens and school lunch in five Western districts of all sizes and demographics. It’s our first-in-a-series tour from coast-to-coast showcasing School Meals That Rock – today, with a special focus on teens and veggies.

In suburban Lake Stevens, Washington, Schools, just west of the Seattle, Calavero Mid-High piloted a “Build Your Own Salad Lunch” last spring and they now serve 65+ a day. They are expanding this concept to all middle/high schools in October: Students order a custom salad built from lean diced meats, shredded cheeses or seeds for protein, croutons or whole wheat bread-sticks for grain, and a colorful selection of fresh veggies (often local) and dried fruits.

Veggie toppings for a "Build Your Own Salad Lunch"

Lake Stevens veggie toppings for a “Build Your Own Salad Lunch”

Mixed salad lunch in a bowl

Lake Stevens customized salad lunch in a bowl

Down I-5, in Eugene, Oregon, Bethel School District, has developed a very impressive Harvest-of-the-Month program. Willamette Valley apples, pears, melons, carrots, bok choy, greens and much more show up on Bethel menus, in sandwiches and throughout variety bars (at least nine different vegetable choices daily at all grade levels).

Variety bar - at least nine veggie available daily

Willamette High School variety bar with regular farm to school options

Bethel Nutrition Services Summer Meal Program Sandwich

Bethel Nutrition Services Summer Meal Program Sandwich

In the Solvang, California, Viking Café, Chef Bethany Markee leads a real school food revolution, where they offer a made-from-scratch hot lunch along with grab-n-go options (entrée salads, wrap sandwiches or vegetarian cold items). Thanks to a partnership with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, the Viking Café is able to regularly serve fresh, organic produce and thanks to a new school herb garden, the seasonings will soon be very local as well.

Solvang Grab-n-Go Salads

Solvang Grab-n-Go Salads

Solvang produce bar often features "rescued" veggies

Solvang produce bar often features “rescued” veggies

Across the mountains in the Provo, Utah, Schools, Jenilee McComb, Director and Colleen Dietz, Assistant, have made a commitment to freshly prepared, locally sourced meals in this mid-size district just south of Salt Lake City. They proudly lists the farms and farmers who grow food for their kitchen, so that Provo students know where their food comes from – and taking a few extra seconds to make something look more appealing to the eye has made all the difference.

Provo Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara

Provo Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara

Provo Homemade Roast Pork and Mashed Potatoes

Provo Homemade Roast Pork and Mashed Potatoes

Up in Kalispell, Montana, Public Schools, another medium-sized district close to the Canadian border, Jennifer Montague agrees that presentation and freshness are the keys to getting teens to eat more fruits and vegetables. She believes that young people are discerning customers and they will choose fruits and vegetables if they look appealing and taste good on a regular basis.

Kalispell Hummus Grab-n-Go Salad

Kalispell Hummus Grab-n-Go Salad

Kalispell Rainbow Grab-n-Go Salads

Kalispell Rainbow Grab-n-Go Salads

I am all for getting teens – and even younger students – activated to improve school meals. That’s exactly what the Fuel Up to Play 60 and Alliance for a Healthy Generation programs have been doing for years – with great success. In fact, we have reached the tipping point in school nutrition – and it’s time to use photos like these to inspire lagging districts to make changes.

If you really want to do something, there is no need to use old data and misleading photos. Let’s spend our time showcasing what’s possible and support all school nutrition professionals in serving meals they way districts like Lake Stevens, Bethel, Solvang, Provo and Kalispell are already doing. Jennifer Montague said it best: “If you build it well, they will eat it.”

3 Secrets for Getting Kids to Make Smart Food Choices

[Thanks to Kern Halls of Ingenious Culinary Concepts for originally publishing this on his new blog.]

As school nutrition professionals, we are required to serve certain food items – and we want our customers to enjoy nutrient-rich, “good-for-them” meals and snacks.  While there is never any guarantee that every child is going to like every food (do you?!), there are some fundamental, “secret” strategies for helping children make smarter food choices at school. Here are three of my favorites:

1.    Presentation, presentation, presentation.

We all eat with our eyes – and our nose and ears – long before we ever put the food in our mouths. School-aged customers are looking for colorful, eye-appealing choices that smell wonderful – and maybe even “sizzle” in the skillet. A recent study with pre-teen children indicated that the young people preferred greater food diversity than adults. On average, they preferred seven different items on their plates and six different colors. This study is one of many from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab that indicate the importance of presentation to children, including on school lunch lines.

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Make sure that it looks, smells and sounds incredibly delicious!

From Kalispell, Montana, these rainbow salads would appeal to any student!!

From Kalispell, Montana, these rainbow salads would appeal to any student!!

2.    Taste, taste, taste.

This should go without saying: Taste reigns supreme in the food world. While you can get kids to take a bite or two of almost anything, you will not get them to repeat the experience or truly enjoy the food unless it tastes good. How do you get food to go from OK to WOW in terms of taste buds? The “secret” is culinary skills – planning, storing, preparing, seasoning and cooking to maximize flavor and texture. Culinary boot camps, guest chefs and chefs on staff have become popular for good reasons. They all help school meals move beyond their reputation for processed blandness to more complex, sophisticated and spicy foods that appeal to today’s consumers.

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Make sure your food tastes so wonderful that they want to come back for more tomorrow.

Denver (CO) Public Schools served Albondigas with zucchini, bell peppers, onions, potatoes, cilantro and carrots, as well as homemade turkey meatballs. Students at Schmitt Elementary raved about them on the playground and at other schools students asked for seconds!

Denver (CO) Public Schools served Albondigas with zucchini, bell peppers, onions, potatoes, cilantro and carrots, as well as homemade turkey meatballs. Students at Schmitt Elementary raved about them on the playground and at other schools students asked for seconds!

3.    Service with a smile.

Anyone who has every worked in any kind of foodservice with any age customers knows the value of a smile. In school cafeterias, the smiles of the school nutrition professionals directly translate into improved academic performance. That’s because S.M.I.L.E. stands for School Meals Improve Learning Environments. When children are well nourished, they are ready to succeed – better able to focus, concentrate and learn in the classroom. Good customer service is one of most effective ways to insure that children will enjoy whatever is served at school breakfast, lunch and snack – whether they know that it is good for them or not!!

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Remember to S.M.I.L.E. and invite your customer to enjoy the appealing, delicious food you have prepared. 

In Lake Stevens, Washington, their "Build a Rainbow" Salad Bar is served with many smiles.

In Lake Stevens, Washington, their “Build a Rainbow” Salad Bar is served with many smiles.

Six Back-to-School Lunch Spots: Where I would take Julia Child for a bite (Part 1, Western states)

As a devoted fan of Julia Child since the days of the earliest days of The French Chef on black and white TV, I know that she was always a culinary and educational trendsetter. Back in 1995, she was a co-founder of Days of Taste®, a national discovery-based program of The American Institute of Wine & Food for 4th and 5th graders. “In this age of fast and frozen food, we want to teach school children about real food – where it is grown and how it is produced – so that they can develop an understanding and appreciation of how good food is supposed to taste.”

Last week was the 101st anniversary of Julia Child’s birth – an event that I always honor personally and professionally. As I was updating the daily entries on School Meals That Rock, I realized how much Julia Child would love to see the very real revolution that has take place in school meals. Fresh, local, lovingly prepared and beautifully served breakfasts, lunches, snacks and even suppers are served across the USA, not just in a few foodie enclaves like Portland (OR) and Berkeley (CA), but in a wide range of school nutrition programs with a real commitment to good food for hungry students.

If I could do some culinary time travel and take Julia to lunch, as Bob Spitz was lucky enough to do in Dearie, here are six school cafeteria hot spots we would hit in the Western states. These schools vary widely in location, demographics and staff training, but all have one thing in common: They are among the growing trend of districts dedicated to serving made-from-scratch food, supporting local farmers and ranchers, and teaching children how good food tastes.

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Lake Stevens, Washington, Mollie Langum, Nutrition Supervisor

Mollie and her staff are true farm-to-table champions, as showcased in their “I Made A Rainbow at the Salad Bar” event. Washington-grown produce is not just for special occasions though; it’s an every day item in Lake Stevens cafeterias (just east of the metro Seattle area). With the right kind of “peer pressure,” students help promote produce, with giant strawberry costumes and as 5th grade fruit/veggie ambassadors.

ImageBethel, Oregon, Jennie Kolpak, RD, Nutrition Supervisor

Down I 5, in Eugene, Oregon, Jennie has developed a very impressive Harvest-of-the-Month program. Willamette Valley apples, pears, melons, carrots, bok choy and more show up on Bethel menus. This made-to-order Willamette High School panini with balsamic marinated veggies is just one delicious example. This year, they are going “hyper-local” with a new commercial size greenhouse on school grounds.

ImageSolvang, California, Chef Bethany Markee, Viking Café

Trading fine dining for a cafeteria, Bethany leads a Central California school food revolution – as this Honey Roasted Organic Fennel for the salad bar clearly shows. Thanks to a partnership with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, the Viking Café is able to regularly serve fresh, organic produce and thanks to a new school herb garden, the seasonings will soon be very local as well.

ImageChandler, Arizona, Catherine Giza, Director and Wes Delbridge, RD, Supervisor

I bet Julia would appreciate the high-tech side of this large multi-cultural district with its trend-setting iPhone app. And, I know that she would be equally impressed with their personal touch on the 250 hand-tossed pizzas with whole grain, made-from-scratch dough and homemade marinara sauce!

ImageProvo, Utah, Jenilee McComb, Director and Colleen Dietz, Assistant

Breakfast or lunch, Provo’s cafeterias serve freshly prepared, locally sourced meals to the lucky students in this mid-size district just south of Salt Lake City. The school nutrition professionals in each school take justifiable pride in their award-winning program and the Facebook page proudly lists the farms and farmers who grow food for their kitchen. Provo students know where their food comes from!

ImageEnnis, Montana, Tammy Wham, Director and Natasha Hegmann, FoodCorps

It might take us a bit longer to get to Ennis, a southwestern Montana community of less than 1,000 with about 400 students K-12. However, I can guarantee that it would be worth the drive! Tammy and her cooks make nearly everything from scratch and thanks to Montana FoodCorps they now have a greenhouse and school garden (with club and summer camp) for incredible, edible produce year-round!