*** I am honored to have a guest post from Ms. Dora Rivas, School Nutrition Association President. Thanks for writing a guest post! ***
Photo caption: Fruit and vegetable choices in Fairfax County Public Schools (Va.)
Dora Rivas, MS, RD, SNS, is President of the School Nutrition Association and Executive Director of Child Nutrition Services for Dallas ISD (Tex.).
First Lady Michelle Obama recently told School Nutrition Association (SNA) members that “if you asked the average person to do what you have to do every day, and that is to prepare a meal for hundreds of hungry kids with just $2.68 a child – with only $1.00 to $1.25 of that money going to the food itself – they would look at you like you were crazy.”
In fact, school nutrition programs must prepare 31 million lunches a day that include servings of milk (or a milk alternative), fruits or vegetables, grains and proteins, while meeting other federal, state and local nutrition requirements, staying within limited budgets and pleasing the pickiest of eaters. These meals are served in age appropriate portions that limit fat and provide nutrients critical for development. However, many school districts have far surpassed current nutrition requirements:
– In St. Paul Public Schools (Minn.), more than 56 percent of total produce purchases from September to January were locally grown, and other locally produced foods such as Minnesota-raised bison, wild rice, honey and flaxseed are finding their way on the menu this spring.
– Spring Independent School District (Tex.) students love the raw jicama, sweet potato and beet sticks served with dip.
– In Yuma School District One (Ariz.), child nutrition staff bake whole wheat rolls from scratch.
– Polk County Public School District (Fla.) students rave about the low-fat breakfast yogurt parfaits with blueberries and granola.
Examples like these are found in cafeterias all across the country, with many discreet improvements going unnoticed. In fact, schools have turned kid-favorites into healthy options, like pizza prepared with whole grain crusts, low fat cheese and low sodium sauce or turkey burgers served on whole wheat buns.
But as school nutrition programs work to offer students more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, they need your support. Mrs. Q is raising awareness of school nutrition issues at a critical time – Congress is currently debating legislation to reauthorize child nutrition programs. Fed Up readers should contact their members of Congress to call for more funds for school meal programs, as well as nutrition standards for all foods sold during the school day. For more information, visit School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action page and follow school nutrition news on Twitter @SchoolLunch.
64 thoughts on “Guest blogger: School Nutrition Association President, Ms. Dora Rivas”
I'm so happy at least some schools are finding ways to incorporate better foods into their budgets.
Fruit and yogurt make for an extremely child friendly breakfast. One of my girls favorites is homemade whole wheat toast spread with 1-2 tsp. light vanilla yogurt and then topped with sliced strawberries or blueberries.
We don't seem to give children enough credit most of the time. Tastes can change, but it takes repeated exposure to new foods. That's why pediatricians tell you to try a new food with infants at least fifteen times before you give up on it, unless they have an allergic reaction to it, of course.
Same goes for us adults. I wasn't raised with carrots, broccoli, and celery served at all in the house. I nearly gagged the first several times I served them when we started the push for healthier food in our home, and now I'm quite fond of them.
Children can enjoy food that's good for them, but they won't unless we give them ample chances to try it and adjust their palates.
It's all good and wonderful to point out individual schools and districts that are doing what they can to do better about school lunches, but sadly, they're the exception rather than the rule. My own children are typically offered a choice between cardboard and raw wool for lunch. If they get lucky they also can also get a serving of sawdust.
As I go through a teacher preparation program myself (for 8-12 science certification), I've gotten a look at offerings in several districts, and at least where I live, they're pretty well all abysmal, even in "rich" districts.
And for me, I don't think that contacting either my state or federal legislators will have any positive effect. My legislators believe that public education is a communist plot — some of them have even said so on the floor of the statehouse. They wouldn't offer public education if they could avoid it, and they regularly do everything the can to strangle it. So hoping for anything better than what we're getting now would be like locking myself in a closet and praying for one of Mrs. Q's hot dogs to appear.
Sad state of affairs, and our children deserve better, but for now, it's where we're at, at least in my state.
This is such great news for me! Ms. Rivas, I will be contacting you for suggestions to help work with my district! I admit, Mesquite (a suburb of Dallas) is doing a great job compared to many other areas. My concern is the portion sizes. The over processed main entrees are, for lack of a better word, VAST, compared to to the fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain sides. It seems that if we start by cutting the main entree portion size down (by half in most cases), we could afford to offer better quality and fresher side dishes.
Ms. Rivas, I'm sure you're well aware of MISD's sometime reluctance to make changes. Hopefully you can offer me tips on ways to approach the matter in a school-district friendly way?
Mrs.Q, as always, thanks for everything your doing and keping this issue in the forefront! Between you , your guest bloggers, and the people who comment on your posts, I learn something new everyday. You're building a very powerful community!
It's nice to see a St. Paul mention. Our kids lunches could use improvement, of course, and there are some staples on their that might make Jamie Oliver cry some more (for example, a breakfast staple is a greasy cheese bread that the kids adore), but it's nothing like the meals I see here. Most schools offer free breakfast to all students, they make it incredibly easy to apply for free or reduced lunches, the kids still eat on trays not disposable containers, they get lots of choices including vegetarian options and ethnic foods, etc. All the kids I've had or known that go to these schools get excited about the food offered… for instance, the other day my nieces had a debate about mangoes that were offered as a snack in their classroom. And they run to school every morning for breakfast.
As an integral part of the educational process we see the fruits of our labor each and every day throughout the school year as we offer healthy and nutritious breakfast and lunches to our students.
Over the past several years we see more of our customers inquiring about the nutrition of the items that we serve. This is a good thing because now we don’t have to hide the fact that ingredients that go into our items are whole grains, low fat and low sodium options. We are offering more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis at all levels in our district to include elementary, junior and senior highs. We have instituted ‘breakfast in the classroom’ in over 500 classrooms throughout our district. The fact that now children receive a breakfast makes their day go better because they are prepared to learn and don’t have to fight the fact that their stomachs are growling and they can’t concentrate. Thanks to a USDA grant we have implemented the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program which enables us to provide healthful fruit and vegetable snacks during the school day to students and because of this we have seen an increase in the students taking more fruits and vegetables during lunch.
I commend the School Nutrition Association for all they do to help communicate and advocate on behalf of the 485,000 child nutrition professionals across the country.
Craig Weidel, SNS
I like this post because it puts real information out there from a person in a position to know, AND it is not defensive in its tone. We have real issues to address, and most professionals who are working with school nutrition are doing their level best with the resources they have. This information about what some school districts are doing exceptionally well may help bring others on board with similar actions.
Thank you for these words.
(I'm a mom, not a nutritionist 🙂 )
As the director in Wayzata School District located in Plymouth, MN I am excited about the options we are able to offer our students. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains on a daily basis many of these items are purchased locally through our Farm to School program. As we transition into the next school year we will continue to offer these items and work towards reducing the amount of processed food offered. Challenges abound daily, but with hard work and a dedicated staff we are up for the challenge!
Wayzata School District
Not only do we offer vast selections of fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grain products,lean chicken and fish but our students CONSUME them! As few as 10 years ago we could not have paid a student to eat a banana. Now our produce (delivered and prepared fresh daily) flies off of our shelves. I would love to share photos of our "typical" school meals on to have them compared to the food items we have seen on this blog. I think that America would be surprised to find out that "typical" school meals are restaurant quality without the sugar, fat and sodium. I applaud Mrs. Q's willingness to allow Ms. Rivas to respond with the OTHER side of the story. I would not accept the version of meals that is provided at Mrs. Q's school, either. More importantly neither would my staff, parents and most importantly my students.
Dearborn Heights, Michigan
Mrs Q has to work at some ghetto school or something I have never seen food that bad and I am a military child so I bounced around from school to school all the time growing up and I have never seen food that as bad and she is showing. Never seen it this good though either. Any ways keep up the fight Q
Teach, thought you would like to know about Jamie Oliver's site. Go to and click on "Campaigns" to find out more. The UK's leading publication for Doctors says, "Jamie Oliver has done more for the public health of our children than a corduroy army of health promotion officers or a £100m Saatchi & Saatchi campaign." One of Jamie's main points is that for the first time in history, the life expectancy for our children is shorter than that of their parents, in large part due to a poor nutritional start in life.
I saw your blog in my newspaper….I am just writing to vent. I have eaten many school lunches over the years…I was a child once and ate luches at my schools and after I had my own children would frequently eat with them. I now have grandchildren and for the most part have had a good experience with their lunches..until this year. My youngest grandchild started kindergarten and when she gets home we always ask the usual questions..how was school…how was lunch..did you eat? Almost everyday she would say no to the did you eat question. Well, her Mom and I went up and ate luch with her. I tried to believe it was a bad day but it was their Thanksgiving meal so I had a hard time convincing myself of that. It was horrible! As adults, we could barely stomach it. I watched the kids…barely anything eaten! So we have gone back a few more times…the same thing. The food is horrible.
I guess I have just been spoiled these other years by women who did some good cookiing. One other grandchild went to a school where one of the cooks made her own saled dressing. Wow was it good, I even went up and bought some from her!
I am all for more nutritious foods but I wish the cook at my little grand daughter's school could cook better! Really…a lot of food being wasted!
I really wish our school would try to make improvements as well. I have refrained from eating from the cafeteria for all four years of my high school career. In middle school, it was different. We had staff that cared, and offered a way better selection for lunch. I also feel that is the food were more appealing tons and tons less would be unwasted, as opposed to being thrown away every day.
I am a child nutrition manager in St. Pauls, North Carolina. I have been a manager for 11 years and I have seen alot of changes in child nutrition. We serve most of our food from scratch from homemade wheat rolls, spaghetti sauces, to soup. In my school we do not fry, but we bake everything. We serve whole wheat pizza and whole wheat pastas. Our school also recieved the fruit and vegetible grant so our students recieve fresh fruits and vegetables during lunch and as a snack. Many students have not been exposed to some our fruits like kiwi and star fruit. We have fun trying.
St. Pauls Elementary
Public Schools of Robeson County
Thank you SNA for the excellent post and thanks to Mrs. Q for inviting this guest blogger. I'm happy to see the increased awareness of school nutrition, but disheartened to only see the worst-case scenarios with rarely any attention to the great work that many schools, districts, communities, and organizations are doing. While it is important to point out the areas where work is needed, I feel that it is most constructive to highlight some of the solutions that have been developed, and some of the systems that are working well. There are organizations and individuals (even some who work for… the government!) who have been at work on these issues for years, and while they are lower profile than Jamie Oliver or Oprah, their work and achievements are every bit as important and in many ways, have a higher impact. They can serve as inspiration and models for the communities and schools that have bigger barriers to overcome.
The school meal program has advanced in the last 15 years to meet the changing faces of or American children. The child nutrition staff has learned to prepare food which is acceptable for all cultures and preferences as well as meet the strongest nutritional standards. Most school menus offer 2 – 3 choices on the main entree both at breakfast and lunch. There are fresh fruit bowls on every serving line as part of the meal. Entree Chef Salads are offered daily. In food preparation the highest level of food safety procedures are followed. Health department across the country can confirm that school kitchens are the cleanest in town.
Many children have not been exposed to a wide variety of foods at home so come to school with limited exposure to fresh fruit beside apples, bananas and vegetables other than potatoes, tomatoes and corn. It will take National attention by all who work with education to families to help us introduce real fresh food to our children.
A planned and prepared nutritious meal does not benefit anyone if they throw it away. Food consumption is very personal. Education is the key to improving our children's ability to make good food choices so that our fresh fruits, vegetables and non processed meats, or vegan dishes are selected, eaten and enjoyed. The time is right to take the bold steps needed to improve food habits. Most school nutrition programs offer fresh fruits, vegetables and salad meals but when they are not selected they go in the trash.
The National School meal program should be celebrated as the best in the world – not perfect- but the best! It can be improve and will improve but it will take families embracing the need to change what is offered at home to help us get the students to select good food daily in our cafeterias
Spring Independent School District
This was a good post. It's good to see that some schools are working towards healthier meals. That indicates they acknowledge there's a problem. Another good start.
Is it possible for schools to even consider growing some of their own food? Get plants, pots and potting soil donated… and grow strawberries and greens in south-facing windows. Make it a school project! Perhaps if there's room outside, some fruit trees and blueberry bushes?
Just thinking. Vikki at http://vikkisverandah.blogspot.com
It's great to hear about schools on the right track with nutritious (and delicious!) lunches. These schools and their leaders need to come together and show the government and other districts that nutritious and budget-conscious lunches ARE possible!
I am not a teacher, or a mother, or a nutritionist, but I am an Environmental Sustainability Coordinator for a nursing home. One thing I have learned about making institutional changes is that there will be push-back until it is proven that the new way can work. The only way to change the current situation with school lunches, and with government regulations for lunches, is to show again and again the success stories of these school districts that have been able to make the change.
It is wonderful to hear about proactive school districts and their forward thinking leaders. Let's spread the word!
When I was in junior high and had the choice to go to the snack bar, I choose to eat a snack cake and milkshake (less money, more filling) everyday. Now at 38, I am diabetic even though I am only 35 pounds over weight. I REALLY think they need to get junk food out of the schools. If every school made the improvements that are talked about in this post and junk food was completely taken out of the school, kids would be so much more healthier. There would be less obesity and I truly believe grades would get better. Kids deserve good nutrition.
In the Stillwater & Mahtomedi Public schools in Minnesota, we serve all you can eat fruits and vegetables and have for over 18 years in our programs. Included in that is a variety of fresh, often local produce. We also switched to choices of 1% or skim milk (no 2%) over 15 years ago. We have followed along with reducing the fat content to less than 30% calories from fat in the meals we serve and now we are including many whole grains in the products we serve to our customers. We are exposing our students to many healthy choices, some of them take full advantage, others do not.
The fact is, unless the food is eaten, there is no nutritional value. Our menus do need to be kid-friendly. Students come to school with very specific eating habits. These habits are not easily changed. If a student eats lunch in school every day, those meals equate to 13% of the total meals they eat every day (based on 3 meals a day). We do our best to educate students on healthy choices as well but we also need the public to be educated in what nutritionally sound choices and diets are. Unfortunately, much of the nutrition education Americans get is what they hear in the media and that is usually slanted by someone trying to make a profit or it is only part of the story. This issue is everyone's issue. We are doing our part and will continue to do so.
Plus let's get up off our chairs and get moving! The body needs exercise as well as good nutrition!
I am a high school student, and I will not touch school food. I think that it is super unhealthy and tastes gross! I wish that they would offer Subway sandwiches, have a salad bar, and have a vending machine filled with healthy snacks.
I have a question about the schools that seem to do a good job providing quality food. Are these school districts provide suplemental funds to their food service program and/or do these schools charge more money (ie – pass the added cost on to the consumer)? Does the number of students receiving free/reduced price meals affect how much money is available to spend on food?
We serve whole grains, we serve brown rice, our fries are baked,middle and high school offer breakfast choices,
we don't fry any food, we offer a wide range of fruits and vegatables with each meal, we meat the governments food requirments, we offer salads, homemade tuna salad, chicken salad, on whole wheat wheat pita pockets, pbj on whole wheat, we make soups, a lot of our lunch is made from sctatch, the children are encouraged to try new foods. Parents also haveto get the kids to eat better, the lunch servers, cooks, work very hard to give each child a good nutrious meal.
Some facts: Funding for meals is based on the students eligibility status. Students who qualify for free price meals provide the largest reimbursement from USDA ($2.68 per meal served), reduced qualified students provide a smaller reimbursement from USDA ($2.28 per meal served) and full paying students provide the least amount of reimbursement ($.25 per meal served + the amount of money the student has to pay). Districts who's demagraphics are high need – generally have more money to spend in the Nutrition Services Department. Districts with low free and reduced percentages (under 50%) stuggle and in the most part do not make enough money to pay for the food and labor to feed the district. In this case money comes from the General Fund (away from the classroom funding) to pay for the difference.
In the state of California a flat reimbursement is given for each free or reduced meal served (but not for paid students). The reimbursement is .21. But last year the state ran out of money and cut off the funding in April.
I can ditto Trumbull, Ct and Stillwater, MN and, Houston, and Mesa and St. Paul and SNA's President, Dora Rivas' comments. We've been serving an all you can eat fruit and veggie bar as a component of our lunches for the past 15 years in all our of elementary schools, K through 8. We've been serving 1% milk for the last 20 years. We haven't deep fried ANYTHING for the past 10 years. We also bake our own bread and utilize whole grains whenever we can. We offer vegetarian entrees every day. We think we're pretty indicative of most school meals programs and are proud of what we do. We serve as a vital link to prepare students to be ready to learn when they are in the classroom.
My friend Chef K has this Bistro Kids – Farm2School Lunch in place at a couple of schools in Kansas City and St. Louis, Please check out there page on facebook –
We are a High School District and are have volunteered to abide by the nutrition standards of our state (Arizona). We removed all sodas, junk food snacks, and fryers years ago. All our breads are whole wheat, the favorite of our students is a nine grain bread. We serve both fresh and cut up fruit, yogurt, fresh and steamed vegetables daily. The schools have taken an unfair hit by the media. We care very much about what we do, but we are caught in the middle of trying to give our students the best we can, needing to pay our overhead costs, and still stay financially viable. What bothers me the most, is the lack of respect shown toward the people who work in our industry.
My name is Paula De Lucca and I am the Midwest Regional Director of the School Nutrition Association and Past President of the Illinois School Nutrition Association. I am a Director with the Nutrition Services Agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago. We provide service to schools in the greater Chicago metropolitan area and we are pleased to engage in active partnership with the schools we serve and be part of community-wide endeavors to positively influence the health of everyone we serve.
Our dietitian-designed, chef-inspired menus are based upon the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We combine science-based research with culinary expertise within our menu philosophy. Over the past several years we have made tremendous strides in offering more whole grains, lean meats, and more fresh fruits and vegetables. We introduced our made from scratch whole grain breads using real fruits and vegetables and other wholesome ingredients, and we incorporated whole grains into all items we make in our very own bakery. We even make our own trail mix and granola bars.
We have increased our scratch cooking and reduced the amount of processed foods used. To further our endeavors, we use locally grown and organic fruits and vegetables when possible and provide low fat milk with no growth hormones or antibiotics. Our menus are developed with 0 grams of trans fat and we have proactively taken steps to improve the nutrient density of our meals.
Our goal is to model good dining habits through the meals we serve and to educate students to make informed food choices. As we discover new menu items that meet our profile, and develop new scratch recipes, we update our menus. We believe in continuous quality improvement.
In addition to the meals we serve, we provide educational materials to teach children how to make good food choices. We send wellness bulletins through our Nutri-TrackSM program to schools each month. Topics range from reading nutrition labels to incorporating physical activity into daily life. We also take our message on the road with Farmer's Market nutrition fairs. This information sets the tone for lifestyle changes.
With the reauthorization of child nutrition programs now underway, we are hopeful that additional funding will be made available so that even more healthy and nutrient dense food offerings can be made available to school children throughout the country. We are confident that by working together we can make a difference.
From South Windsor CT: Our school meal program for over 20 years has offered fresh fruit and veggies every day; we have incorporated whole grains and lower fat options for entrees for the last 10+ years; and our milk choices have been 1% and skim for at least 15 years. Our milk company recently replaced all high frutose corn syrup with sugar, reducing the grams of added sugar in the flavored milks. Our district participates in the Healthy Food Certification, a nutrition commitment resulting from state legislation setting strict guidelines on what can be served a la carte to students throughout the school during the school day. Our snacks, a la carte and meal components all meet specific guidelines for nutrient content (both federal guidelines establishe for meals and the state guidelines for snack items, breads, and soups, etc). Our students are offered 4 choices of entree daily in the elementary school and 8 to 12 in our secondary schools (Gr 6-12). Every child is given the choice of at least 5 fruits (some fresh and some canned daily) and at least 2 vegetables. We began serving stir-fry lunches to our older students a few years ago and it has been the most popular change made! Our pizzas are made with whole grain crusts and low fat cheese. Our sandwiches and salad plates have fresh romaine lettuce and grape tomatoes as well as a choice of other vegetable choices. We participated over the last 3 years in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, a grant that allowed us to offer our middle school students fresh fruit and veggie choices daily for snacks at a time other than the meal times. These healthy snacks were free to all students in the school. We found it to be such a successful program – student consumption of veggies and fruit at meal time increased because they had a chance to taste them in a different setting with their peers before coming to lunch.
To answer Woolridge Green club – in CT there are very few districts, if any, that get direct funding support from their district budgets. As directors it is our job to provide the healthiest, and most acceptable meals to our students within the restrictions of the reimbursement plus whatever we charge for the paying child. In districts such as mine with very low percentages of students qualified for free and reduced meals, we depend on providing high quality, consistently prepared meals and snacks/a la carte which boosts sales for some of our funding. Our meal price is set by the Board of Education based on the recommendation we make to them based on our current budget situation and the economy of the district. We work with very high "meals per labor hour ratios" to keep labor low, we struggle with benefit costs and training costs and reach out for grants and training support from our local state agencies. You need to know that we are a very dedicated group of professionals who take the care and feeding of your children to heart. Where there is a will to do the best for our kids, there is a way!
Oh my, the excitement of seeing this project of yours could literally make me jump up and down. I have been talking about the unhealthiness of school lunch since my boys started two years ago. The lunch ladies look at me like I'm APE. I know their hands are tied, but what a Revolution you are starting and count me IN! Can't wait to sit and devour this blog from the beginning. Keep up the GREAT Work!
We have made HUGE changes in our school district by taking baby steps.
The BIG problem with school nutrition is that programs are relying on funding that has remained unchanged except for inflation increases, for almost 40 years. In the last 5-6 years, we have added more fresh fruits and veggies to our menus, incorporated whole grains, less processed foods, scratch cooking and local products. Staff salaries and benefits and other associated costs continue to increase. Incorporating "Healthy Foods" into our menus costs us more money. Many school districts rely on selling "junk" food to be able to afford to menu "healthy choices".
Each state also makes a difference; in CT the state offers school districts to sign up to take part in the Healthy Food Certification Program. If the district complies with the nutrition standards the district receives an additional 10 cents in reimbursement for every lunch sold. This 10 cents allows us to serve "snacks" or a la carte items that the state deems "healthy". The list is very long with many products to choose from. We continually look through the list and form our own list to meet our standards which are stricter than the state standards.
I am proud to tell our story of school meals. We offer a fruit and vegetable bar to all students and they serve themselves, they may take as much as they wish, and we have done this for many years. Our entrees are not super-sized and consist of popular items which students ask for. For example: the days we offer pizza the students has one slice and only one slice of pizza. The pizza has whole grain crust and reduced fat cheese – this one slice of pizza will be on the plate with a salad, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat (1%) or skim milk – items chosen by the student. This story is no different then so many across this country. Our students are encouraged to participate but may bring a lunch from home if they choose to do so – students and parents can make that decision. Students are questioned about new products and we depend on their feedback. We are proud to be part of the educational day and we will continue to work in the classroom with nutrition education so that students may make healthy choices for a lifetime.
Karen Johnson, SNS
A recent School Meals Initiative (the five year audit conducted by the Ohio Department of Education for the National School Lunch Program) revealed that not only did our menu meet the science based nutritional guidelines of the Recommended Dietary Allowances, but kids actually where choosing the fresh fruits and vegetables we were serving. The production records revealed that children picked adequate amounts of the variety of fresh fruit and vegetable choices, and that the whole grain products were ensuring close to 5 gm of fiber was consumed as well. The school meals are highly regulated through the National School Lunch Program, and we all do our part to achieve and often exceed the recommendations. As a dietitian, I also teach a nutrition section in the elementary and high school curriculum to educate students and provide a link between the classroom and the cafeteria – the kids loved the tour of our kitchens as well as the staff. The passion for childhood nutrition, and love of students is what brings most of us into a career in schools. It is our hope to reach out to the communities we serve and illustrate the programs we serve, unite with efforts on the home front, and improve the health and nutrition of our nation's children.
Maureen Faron, RD,LD
Supervisor of Nutrition, Hudson City Schools and Mom of a 4th grade student.
What I find interesting about this guest blogger's post is that the main picture is of Fairfax County Public Schools' lunches. Um, hello… FCPS happens to be one of the wealthiest school systems in the nation! Naturally they'll have a better school lunch program, and prettier food pictures than majority of the US. Why not show a "pretty" picture of what the majority of school lunch options *really* look like?
Thank you Dora for a response that is relevant to the issues facing Child Nutrition (CN) programs nationwide.
The good news: Food nutrition standards are rising for CN programs, through the efforts of the School Nutrition Association, legislators, and concerned parents.
We are in this fight together and the common enemy is the CULTURE that supports the obesity epidemic. This is a societal battle as evidenced by the poor reception that has been received by many well meaning individuals when they entered into the CN arena. We are all challenged by what children are being offered at home and in the restaurant industry. Consider this, if a child eats a school prepared lunch every day during the school year, this will make 180 meals that she will consume prepared by the CN program. If that same child is fortunate enough to consume 3 meals per day, 365 days per year, she will have consumed 1095 total meals with just 16% of her overall meal consumption eating school lunch.
The bad news? As Dora referenced, it is getting much more difficult for our programs to remain financially independent of the school districts. Most of our programs operate solely on federal reimbursements and the money that is spent by the students and adults that participate in our lunch program. The healthier the meals become, the more expensive they are to produce. The same is said for the rising costs of benefits and the costs that school districts levy back to the child nutrition program. Schools are operating on less these days and that is trickling over into additional expenses being charged to child nutrition.
Honestly, I found several of the pictures posted disconcerting. What she is eating is not indicative of most child nutrition programs nationwide. I have never been associated with a group more concerned about providing healthy, attractive, high quality, cost-effective and safe meals.
If you are not happy with the program in your system, I would encourage you to meet with the CN Director of your district and discuss your concerns. Most will be happy to meet with you and share their challenges and work towards a solution.
Jonathan Dickl, MBA, SNS
Assistant Director, Child Nutrition
Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
It is actually more challenging for the wealthy schools to break even than it is for a school with a higher economic needy population.
It's unfortunate that the media chooses to show what's wrong with school lunches instead of what's right. Many districts are offering only low fat milk, fresh fruits and veggies daily, whole grain breads, reduced fat salad dressings, reduced fat cheese, vegetarian choices, etc. Why do school cafeterias get the blame for overweight kids when we feed kids 5 meals per week out of a total of 35 meals per week. Take a look at some sack lunches which have fun meals with cute drinks that are high in fat, sodium and sugar. Considering that schools receive approx. $2.00 per meal, with $1.00 of that going towards staff wages and benefits, equipment repairs,and supplies, schools do a great job of feeding kids. Eating habits begin at the age of 2 and like most habits (eating is no exception), they begin at home. I agree that we have a crisis on our hands with what kids are eating, but the crisis begins a lot sooner than the elementary age child.
Louise Easterly, L.D, SNS
A local cooking show here in Lawrence, Kansas highlighted a private elementary school where the food is actually good – thanks to a parent/chef.
Go to http://www.freestatestudios.com/shows/jaynis-kitchen/
and get recipes, too! The kids actually enjoy the food.
This is wonderful to see that the ball continues to roll with the fight against child obesity and malnutrition with kids.
The one item that hasn't been addressed is that Mrs. Q's district food program, like many others is operated by a for profit corporation. By the look of the food in the pictures,the company then sub contracts out the food to another corporation. The #1 priority of these corporations is to make money for their shareholders, even at the cost of offering sub par food.
The remaining school districts are self operated by the school districts where the priority is to put our children first! Of course we need to also operate a financially sound program, but we put the kids first!
It is possible to get rid of corporate food service, serve fresh, real foods, many locally produced and be a financially sound program. I know because NHPS is proving that point! It just takes baby steps to change.
Tim, you are absolutely right.
I am mother of three, a Child Nutrition Director and a child health advocate. The School Nutrition Association and directors across the nation have long been working for improvements and funding for the school meals program. We are a group of dedicated professionals, who are deeply concerned with the health and well being of children.I must admit after years of going to Washington, the state legislature and USDA begging for assitance I am a bit weary. I am also weary of being the whipping post for the child hood obesity crisis. Our programs provide meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat protiens and special diets, all on a shoestring budget. Child Nutrition did not cause this societal crisis, but we are devoted to help change it. Unfortunately, we must contend with states and locals continuing to dip into our back pockets taking federal reinbusement for indirect cost and often miss-using state match money. States set our employees salaries and benfits,local boards set our prices, while most contribute nothing. Parents charge meals and never pay. This school year my 19 schools have $10,000.00 in student meal charges. Everyone is for healthy school meals until it comes time to commit to an investment. If we are truly commited to the children of this nation it is time to cut throught the red tape and adequately fund child nutrition. I worked for two years and made four trips to Washington to help change one sentence in Federal procurement that would allow for the purchase of local fruits and vegetables. These kinds of roads blocks are inexcusable. Our elected officals need to be held accountable! How many of you even look to see how they vote on these issues? We need to band together and demand a strong reauthorization bill. It is time to contact your congressman. Child hunger and child hood obesity walk hand -in -hand and our nation is overflowing with children in need. As responsible adults it is time that we work together for the benefit of our children. It is critic to the sucess of producing exemplary citizens.
Cindy S. Marion, B.S., M.A.
Director of Child Nutrition
Stokes County Schools
Having had the experience of being a needy family, I can assure you that ALL school meals, no matter what level of judgment used, are better than what I could provide. I learned firsthand what is was like to "make do" with my food budget – rent & utility payments came first. Furthemore, the tenement where we lived had a very poor small refrigerator/freezer, so having produce at all meals was quite the challenge.
School meals at their "worst" are the best affordable model of what a balanced meal looks like. Like it or not, the types of food offered are what children recognize – and that is a larger issue we must all work on – together – in a respectful way.
I study a lot of health and nutrition in my spare time. I am new to this blog, I found it on the ABC News web site. I recently watched the episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I saw the first problem was the older ladies cafeteria workers were set in their ways and to me seemed lazy. Which tells me they care nothing about the children's health but more about receiving a paycheck.
The food they have in schools is nothing like what I had growing up. Yet during my teen years many of the schools I been to sold junk food. Many of the students that ate a lot of that food were mostly students who were troublemakers in the school. I don't even see how they skipped eating to go to the pop chips and snack cakes. None of that food ever lasted for me, and made me crash energy wise.
I thought the FDA had school lunch guidelines??? Yet they had to change the food pyramid(based on same to make farm animals gain weight) We go from 5 servings to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Sad to say many Americans don't even get 5 a day. Unlike many Asia who have 10 x more fruits and vegetables at markets than many of us have never seen.
Yet out of all this we fail to see that the poorest people in America are some of the most obese. This is due to the fact of what they can afford to buy is the most processed food you can get.
In our district, we try our best to follow the guidelines of our wellness policy, while at the same time provide the requirements of the National School Lunch Program. We offer fresh vegetables and chef salad every day at the high school and middle school levels, and fresh fruit on a regular basis at all levels. We have reduced our milk fat levels to 1% or less at all schools. We are looking for new ways to introduce more whole grains, including the switch of bakery products to whole grain and adding whole grain tortillas, poptarts,and tortilla chips/salsa. The State Department of Education provides our nutrition guidelines and reviews are performed to assure
compliance. Our wellness committee welcomes community members and meets yearly to discuss possible changes and new ways to improve our nutritional values. It is a very difficult task to provide wholesome and nutritious meals and at the same time maintain the interest and participation to keep the program afloat.
I went to high school in one of the better-off schools in Fairfax County, and I'm happy to day that we did indeed have fruits and vegetables available (as pictured). I'd like to point out though that most of the fruit/veggie choices actually tasted like anything.
Stuff that tasted like it was food:
Oranges (kind of)
Kiwis (kind of)
Peaches (from a can) with a maraschino cherry on top
"Cobbler" which was peaches with some crumbly sugary crust on top and a bit of whipped topping (this counted as "fruit" even though it was more "dessert" in my opinion)
Stuff that tasted like it could have been styrafoam:
"salad" (shredded lettuce with two slices of tomato)
The entrees weren't much better. We had pizza available almost every day. I think my senior year they started offering whole-wheat crust pizza, which is cool and all, but the pizza was still always dripping with grease. I'd waste about 3-5 napkins de-greasing it before I'd eat it. They had pasta which was almost always overdone so badly that I couldn't choke it down. The sauce was pretty good though, so I'd use it to dunk my potato-side in. Once in a while they'd have mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce and everyone would go crazy about them because they tasted so good. The other good thing they had was nachos, which tasted exactly like you'd expect. Sometimes they had a chili-thing for the nachos and sometimes they had a salsa-thing, but they always had that awful cheese-goop which everyone else seemed to like, but I could never stomach. They were terrible nutrition-wise, but they tasted good! (continued)
Another thing on the pizza. There were three kinds of pizza: Triangle, Rectangle, and Circle. Triangle pizza had "stuffed crust" and came in pepperoni or cheese. Rectangle pizza came in whole wheat crust most of the time and came in pepperoni and cheese, and once in a while "veggie" which had bits of what was probably broccoli and carrots, though you'd never know from eating it. Circle pizza came in pepperoni and cheese and for some reason always tasted worse than the other pizzas.
They also had cheeseburgers and chicken patties but I never got them because they just looked so bad. They had hot dogs sometimes too, you got two hot dogs in nearly-stale bread. The hot dogs were absolutely disgusting and the way they cooked them made them stripy (greenish-pink and purplish-pink) which was even more unappetizing. We also had a rib-be-cue thing going on at some point but I think the meat was chicken or turkey. It tasted like crappy barbecue sauce on a sponge.
The regular lunch worked like this:
1 Drink (Various milks and "juice drink"s)
1 Entree (Pizza or the other thing)
1 Potato side (Fries or tater tots or smile-fries)
1 Fruit/Veggie thing (like the ones pictured)
For a little more money you could get a "double deal" and have two entrees and maybe another thing instead of just one
The regular lunch cost $2.10 if I remember correctly, and the double deal I think was still under $3 but it might have been $3.25
For $3.50 you could buy a salad which was comprised almost entirely of lettuce with maybe 3 cucumber slices and 4 cherry tomatoes. The salads came in a large black plastic container with a clear lid. The container had one large main compartment (where the salad was) and two smaller compartments which had croutons or cheese. You also got to pick a giant packet of salad dressing (the size of my hand) to go with the salad.
I'm no expert, but that much salad dressing (plus croutons plus cheese) kind of negates the healthiness of the salad.
If it wasn't a nachos or mozzarella sticks day, I would get a rectangle pizza or a salad. I probably got pizza more often, because it tasted ok and was cheaper. I got full-price lunch, and my family could easily have afforded for me to get the salad every day, but it honestly didn't taste that much better, since it was almost entirely lettuce.
We had 20 minutes for lunch, and I am a fast eater, so this was never a problem for me.
Most days I didn't finish my lunch because it was just so unpleasant, and when I did I always wished I had eaten something healthier.
to Cindy Marion: Thank you for expressing most of my thoughts on this latest "let's beat up on school lunches as the main problem of overweight kids" episode. To "mrbunnylamkins" – your negative comments about the school lunch professionals who were shown in J.O. show – why not think out of the box and actually contemplate that editing has a lot to do with sensationalizing whatever tv producers want to make "more interesting" – maybe a tv producer should come into your office or place of work and rip apart everything you THINK you are doing well and then put it on national tv. You just MIGHT be a LITTLE defensive.
Kelly M, Ohio
Thanks to everyone who commented. I really needed that perspective.
As a food service manager of a large elementary school in Cheshire, CT (841 students), I can proudly say we have been following a menu plan filled with nutritious and delicious fruits & vegetables for quite some time. For example we served fresh strawberries & fresh cut up oranges, & bananas today along with a mesculun salad. Students also have enjoyed fresh steamed green beans & butternut squash. Our district participates in a wellness program that helps educate our youth about healthy food choices. We use whole grain pizzas & pasta and offer 7 main choices every day and our participation rates are very good.
After watching Jamie Oliver's show tonight, I am not certain I'd want him to prepare food in our schools. Certainly fresh food choices are great, but his lack of skills in food handling is disturbing. He doesn't wear gloves when handling fresh or frozen foods and he seems oblivious to all the dangers of that and cross contamination issues.
Kids deserve fresh nutritious food choices to stay healthy but proper sanitation procedures are critical to avoid deadly food born illnesses.
I am a Child Nutrition manager in Hendersonville, North Carolina. We strive to serve healthy choices to our students each day. We follow the state mandated Nutrition Standards, which call for lower fat, lower sodium, and no fried food at the elementary level, just for starters. Fresh fruits and vegetables are offered daily in our schools, as well as low fat and skim milk. The mistakes from one school should not be the picture that America sees and uses to form opinions on school lunch. I invite you to come into any of the cafeterias in our town any day to witness healthy school lunch at its finest.
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