S.M.I.L.E. for Kids: It’s 31 Days of #RealSchoolFood

The recent, but short-lived Twitter hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, was one more in a long series of efforts to vilify U.S. school nutrition programs. I’m not exactly sure why school meals continue to be a favorite target, but I do know that it’s now time to recognize the improvements and support the #RealSchoolFood enjoyed in thousands of school cafeterias every day.

The 2010 Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) – with new nutrition standards and revised meal patterns – means that schools are now leading the charge to improve the eating habits of American youth. And, the HHFKA is just one of many ‘ingredients’ making school meals something that lunch ladies and ‘food dudes’ are proud to serve from coast to coast. As Health Assistant Marlene Gleim says about Manager Loli Preciado and staff at Woodard Jr. High (Yuma (AZ) Child Nutrition Department), “These ladies cook as if you were going to eat in their actual home. Food made right from the heart!”

Salad Bar, Woodard Jr. High, Yuma, Arizona

Salad Bar, Woodard Jr. High, Yuma, Arizona

Does every school nutrition program deserve a five-star review? No. Is every school meal perfectly balanced? No. While there is room for improvement in some districts, bashing, blaming and pointing fingers doesn’t help. It merely perpetuates a stereotype that no longer represents the norm in school lunch or any other meal.

For the next 31 days, every day of December, School Meals That Rock will tell the #RealSchoolFood story with photos – from breakfast to supper, soup to nuts, farm to school, seed to salad bar and much more. Have concerns about food in your district? We’ll offer more specific ideas about what you can do to enhance the food served in any cafeteria.

Why? Because 20 million American children eat a free or reduced price school lunch every day. I believe that they deserve the best nutrition possible to fuel their education and their future. 

It's Only Nutrition When They Eat or Drink It

It’s Only Nutrition When They Eat or Drink It

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.

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                                                                                  

 

 

EVERY DAY GOODNESS: Smart Photos of School Meals (Part 2)

Why are we spending so much time on school food photo tips? When people see a few yucky photos of school meals, they think that all school meals are bad. When they see bright, beautiful, colorful foods served in your outstanding programs, they begin to understand all school meals in a different way. Public opinion about school meals is literally in your hands. School Meals That Rock wants the world to see accurate, current, positive images of school nutrition.

That’s why we are sharing tips for better school food photos. Part 1 featured tips on tray color and background; this post offers three suggestions about the food itself.

Salad Bar section from Billerica, Massachusetts

Salad Bar section from Billerica, Massachusetts

Tip #4: GO WITH BRIGHT COLORS. There’s no need to always show a complete tray. Look throughout your kitchen and cafeteria for brilliant combinations of colors. This small section of a salad bar has a great mix of red and yellows. It demonstrates the variety of produce options available to student and is very appealing. Thanks to Dina Fordyce Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator, Billerica Public Schools for taking it and sharing it. You can learn more about their program by following them at Billerica Schools Nutrition Services on Facebook.

Vegetables from the line in Timpview High School, Provo, Utah

Vegetables from the line in Timpview High School, Provo, Utah

Tip #5: SHOW CONTRASTING COLORS AND SHAPES. Whether on a line or on a tray, contrast is good. These fresh, local green beans look nice by themselves, but see how much more appealing they look in contrast to the steamed butternut squash. Thanks to Colleen Dietz for her amazing collection for school food photos from schools in Provo, Utah. She has done an outstanding job of encouraging staff throughout the district to document excellence in school nutrition. You see learn a lot by following Provo’s work on Facebook at ITS Meals at Provo School District.

Dramatic display of fruits and vegetables from Jackson-Madison County School System, Tennessee

Dramatic display of produce from Jackson-Madison County School System, Tennessee

Tip #6: SHOW LAYERS OF COLOR. Multiple shelves in a cafeteria line can be an impressive way to display food – and to encourage students to take and eat items. Layers also make dramatic photographs, especially when they are filled with bright colors. Susan Johnson, School Nutrition Director, from Jackson-Madison County School System in Tennessee, share some knock-out photos with us. This one is from Liberty Technology Magnet High School, where some of the vegetables are grown in a hydroponic greenhouse.

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.