10 Reasons to Ignore School Lunch Haters and Support #RealSchoolFood

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

NOTE: This blog was originally posted in April 2015. Sadly, more than two years later, some of the same lunch haters are still sharing the same out-of-date photos and information. Seriously, it is 2017 and #RealSchoolFood has evolved across the USA. Read my 10 reasons below, then go help serve #SummersMeals to hungry kids in your community. THAT is where the child really meets the tray!

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: Recipes from Your Colleagues

As 2014 comes to a close, we’re talking #RealSchoolFood recipes that you might want to incorporate in 2015. The overall goal is to offer you some great scratch recipes, saving you the time, money and hassle to creating your own recipes from scratch. Remember the recorded USDA webinar on Finding and Creating School Recipes for Success with USDA Foods (featuring Malissa Marsden and me) is available on YouTube. Several colleagues have suggested that this would make a great (and free) January in-service to share with your staff.

Another wonderful source of recipes is your friends and colleagues in the school food world. Most school nutrition professionals are more than willing to share recipes – just ask nicely and be sure to say thank you! Here are three examples of recipe sources from colleagues you can trust.

The Washington State Schools “Scratch Cooking” Recipe Book is packed with delicious contributions from school cooks across Washington. More than 20 districts contributed recipes to this September 2013 publication (all recipes meet new meal pattern guidelines). The book has lots of interesting main dishes, from basic Chicken Fajitas to Italian Baked Fish w/ Provencal Sauce, as well as grains, fruits and vegetables. 

WA ChildNutritionRecipeBook Cover

Provo School District in Provo, Utah, is an outstanding example of scratch cooking with locally sourced ingredients. They are also incredibly generous with sharing their food art on Facebook – and their recipes as well. In May 2014, they shared six recipes that featured local meat, poultry, veggies, fruits and even mushrooms! You can download them at Provo City School District Recipes with Local Food Items from the National Farm to School Network database (where you can also search for other recipes and resources).

I can personally recommend the Roasted Asparagus, which I once had the pleasure of both eating and serving this recipe to middle school students. Many of them asked how many spears they could have!

Asparagus

 

As a final treat, Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program, RSU #14 in Maine, has been kind enough to share their recipe for the Whole Grain Rolls served at their Thanksgiving meal in November. Here is what Director Jeanne Reilly wrote to go with these yummy photos: “Yesterday was such a great day, with so many of our students and staff taking part in our Thanksgiving Feast throughout our entire district. Our “homemade” school baked rolls were a huge hit and many have requested the recipe. Our rolls (unlike the original recipe) were whole grain and we substituted a portion of the white flour with100% whole grain white flour.” That is district Chef Samantha forming the rolls in the top left.

Thanksgiving Rolls in Windham-Raymond Schools, Maine

Thanksgiving Rolls in Windham-Raymond Schools, Maine

Here is a JPG of the recipe that Jeanne shared with me. If you cannot read it well enough in this format, send an email to SchoolMealsThatRock@gmail.com, I will send the recipe PDF to you. Thanks to Jeanne and all the other directors for being willing the share the goodness of from their kitchens!

Rolls

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Salad Bars Bring on the Produce

Schools clearly have a role in providing healthy foods to children. Our data suggest that the most vulnerable students are benefitting the most from school food.” A recently published study by Dr. Madeline Dalton, PhDThe Hood Center for Children and Families at Dartmouth College, confirms that school meals are important source of produce for low-income adolescents. According to her co-author Dr. Meghan Longacre, “Innovation in school food offerings for kids has emphasized increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and it’s working for low-income kids, but the evidence shows that a different strategy may be needed to have the same positive effect on high income kids.”

The innovation the authors refer to includes the requirements of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and changes in Meal Patterns to increase the quantity and variety of produce offerings at school. A quick look at three school salad bars from Southern states – an area not known for its fresh vegetable consumption – confirms that students are enjoying incredible produce options at school.

Lusher High School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Lusher High School, New Orleans, Louisiana

This gorgeous salad bar in a New Orleans Charter School includes everything from common celery to more exotic fresh mushrooms. These teens in this school can clearly enjoy a wide variety of flavors, textures and nutrition along with their lunch entrée. In many schools, teens are to take as many fruits and vegetables as they want. Middle School students in Carrollton, Georgia, can enjoy these colorful choices as part of the district’s Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools initiative.

Carrollton Middle School Salad Bar, Carrollton City Schools, Georgia

Carrollton Middle School Salad Bar, Carrollton City Schools, Georgia

Up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the High School Salad Bar is truly impressive. Like her colleague Dr. Linnette Dodson in the Carrollton, Georgia, Harrisonburg’s School Nutrition Director Andrea Early works hard to source as many local items for the produce bar as possible.

Harrisonburg (VA) High School Salad Bar

Harrisonburg (VA) High School Salad Bar

Of course, the most important question is: Do teens really dig into these beautiful displays and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables? The answer, according to a January 2014 Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative is a resounding success! As reported by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition (GSCN) the successful outcomes of salad Bar Implementation included:

  • Increased students’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Most schools reported increased student participation in school lunch (57%)
  • School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents became more supportive of salad bars
  • A majority of schools reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables (78%)
  • Schools used fresh, pre-cut fruits and vegetables for salad bars (81%)

Additional results of the evaluation are outlined in this infographic from the report.

Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative

Evaluation of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: It’s All About Local

A recent viral post on Eat Local Grown suggested French school lunch put the American National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to shame. I don’t know enough about French school meals to comment, but I can tell you that the American meals pictured were from 2010-2012 and the school nutrition world has change dramatically. The French meals shown could have come from any one of hundreds of schools across America. Why I am so sure that NSLP meals are nutritious, delicious and increasingly locally grown? Because that’s exactly what I document every day on School Meals That Rock – and I have thousands of photos on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to prove it.

Thanks to major school nutrition movements including the National Farm to School Network, the numerous state/community farm to school coalitions, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School resources and hundreds FoodCorps Service Members LOCAL SCHOOL LUNCH IS IN! And, we are talking real local, like the 1100 pounds of local sweet potatoes delivered by farmer Pete Jackson to Burke County Schools Farm to School Program. In his very rural Georgia county with one of the highest child poverty rates in the US, Director Donna Martin is growing the local economy by serving local, often organic foods including local grits ground the old-fashioned way.

Burke County

Up in Big Sky country, Montana Food Corps service member have helped to change school meals – and entire community food systems. The Ennis Farm to School initiative has created are now schools gardens, a greenhouse for winter greens and Montana Beef Stroganoff for Montana students. Kids are making and eating Beet and Carrot Patties, as well as the kale and kohlrabi grown on schools grounds. In Kalispell Public Schools director Jennifer Montague and her staff turned local squash into a Lentil-Squash Hummus snack. 

Lentil-Sqaush Hummus, Kalispell, Montana, Public Schools

Lentil-Sqaush Hummus, Kalispell, Montana, Public Schools

Out in Eugene, Oregon, local is an everything thing on student trays. On November 7, 2014, Director Jennie Kolpak posted this photo for Bethel Nutrition Services: “Great lunch today at Malabon Elementary featuring an abundance of Oregon foods, including Vegetarian Chil with Truitt Family beans and Bob’s Red Mill bulgar, homemade Honey Cornbread, our Harvest of the Month (Oregon grown Comice Pears), local roasted Pumpkin Seeds, local milk and a variety of fresh veggies.” I would put this lovely lunch head-to-head with any fancy French school lunch photo.

Local Oregon Lunch at Marabon Elementary, Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Local Oregon Lunch at Malabon Elementary, Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

And this is just a tiny sample – tomorrow we’ll feature some of the programs that received funding in the latest round of USDA Farm to School grants. On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $5 million in grants for 82 projects spanning 42 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s all about local #RealSchoolFood across America. It’s time to stop bashing school meals and help support Farm to School in YOUR district!

 

#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

 

Dear Katie Couric: Let’s Do School Lunch

Dear Katie Couric,

My friends and I would like to invite you to lunch in some very trendy, very healthy – but clearly undiscovered – dining rooms around the country. We heard your recent Good Morning America comments that “50% of school districts serve junk food for lunch, fast food for lunch. Kids are getting terrible choices.” We are delighted to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

The real news about school lunch is that 30+ million students enjoy amazing choices every day. Thanks to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, dedicated school nutrition professionals and thousands of health, nutrition and community partners, kids now have access to a truly amazing variety of:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes organic, often local or even ‘hyper-local’ – straight from school garden
  • Whole grains, including quinoa, brown rice and other gluten-free options, as well as freshly baked whole wheat rolls and whole grain pizza crusts
  • Lean proteins like hummus, black bean salad and grilled tofu, boat-to-school salmon in Alaska and Montana beef for Montana schools
  • Delicious dairy products, such as Greek yogurt parfaits, berry smoothies and artisan cheeses, in addition to low-fat/fat-free milk at every meal

But, please don’t take our word for it. Come see the amazing variety and taste the deliciousness that is school lunch in America today. We’re so sorry that the Fed Up researchers did not dig deeper into the revolution in schools meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks and suppers) growing in thousands of districts.

School Nutrition Professionals make daily salads. El Monte City Schools, California (May 2014)

El Monte City Schools, California: School nutrition professionals make daily salads (May 2014)

Here are a few tasty tidbits showing how well fed our children are in schools today:

  • USDA Farm to School Census: In USDA’s most recent survey (SY 2011-12) schools invested $354,599,266 in local economies by purchasing local foods.
  • National Farm to School Network: More than 1,000 local food champions recently met in Austin to celebrate and ‘power up’ for expanding programs.
  • USDA HealthierUS School Challenge: 6,730 schools in 49 states and DC have met rigorous nutrition and physical activity criteria for these awards.
  • Food Corps: This nationwide team of 140 passionate service members and fellows in 108 sites connects kids to real food to help them grow up healthy.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: Hundreds of chefs now work in school programs, as directors, leaders and regular volunteers to train staff and energize kids.
  • Salad Bars Move to Schools: 1.7+ million students are eating up produce packed into 3,400+ new salad bars donated to schools from coast to coast.
  • CIA Healthy Kids: The nation’s top chefs offer culinary resources to schools so they can continue serving tasty, appealing, nutritious food to children.
  • Vermont FEED: This is one example of regional efforts with a nationwide reach to provide nutrition education and culinary training to schools.
Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Many of us have admired your work for years – and now we would like to share ours with you! Lunch is on us – we just want you to see, and more importantly taste, the amazing changes being served up in America’s school kitchens and dining areas.

You name the date and location – and we will be there to show you how hard School Nutrition Association members work to ensure that children are well nourished and ready to learn!

Sincerely,

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

President
Nutrition for the Future, Inc.
Billings, MT 59102

MOBILE:    406-698-8868  
EMAIL: EatWellatSchool@gmail.com
FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock                                                                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. V is for VEGETABLES

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.

V is for VEGETABLES

Yesterday several friends sent me a nice meme of children in a garden with the words: “Share this if you think every school should have a garden” Of course, I think that every school should have a garden! I also believe that VEGETABLES fresh from the garden are perhaps the best way to get kids eating more produce – and I am quite certain that garden-based learning is one of the best way to teach nutrition.

However, I have also visited dozens of school gardens and greenhouses – filled with a variety of VEGETABLES at all times of the year – and I know for a fact that successful school gardens take a lot of hard, every day work. There is planning, teaching, planting, teaching, weeding, teaching and harvesting and then teaching some more.

True, there are tons of school garden resources (some of my favorites are listed below). And, in many states, there are even grants – but it still takes an amazing number of dedicated green thumbs to make a school garden grow VEGETABLES for hungry kids. As my friend Alyssa Densham says, “School gardens don’t grown themselves!”

Some of these school garden resources may be more appropriate for certain parts of the country than others. Check them out with these quick links:

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Eat. Play. Learn. Q is QUINOA.

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.

Q is for QUINOA

There weren’t too many competitors for the Q word – and QUINOA has been popular in school breakfast and lunches as well as homes across the country. The versatile, gluten-free ‘pseudocereal’ is actually related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.

QUINOA is served in Provo (Utah) Public Schools as Black Bean, Corn and QUINOA Salad and in Windham-Raymond (Maine) Schools in a made-from-scratch Vegetable QUINOA Soup. The new cookbook from Vermont FEED – New School Cuisine Nutritious and Seasonal Recipes for School Cooks by School Cooks – features several yummy QUINOA recipes, including one for Carrot and QUINOA Muffins.

This recipe has been served Corvallis (OR) Farm to School events – and was recently very popular at a Corvallis High School Wellness event. In schools from coast to coast, students get to eat – and learn about – the hottest culinary and nutrition trends.

Corvallis (OR) Farm to School, Carrot, Black Bean, and Quinoa Wraps