School Meals That Rock
I can understand being fed up with school lunch – and I can also understand being an angry mom. In fact, my concerns about my children’s school lunches 20 years ago are what initially drove me to become active in creating healthy school environments.
My name is Dayle Hayes. As a Registered Dietitian and a member of the American Dietetic Association, I currently serve as Chair of the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group
and Member Champion for the Prevention of Childhood Obesity. I live in Billings, Montana, where I am Co-Chair of Billings Action for Healthy Kids and president of Nutrition for the Future, Inc
. While I am lucky enough to live in Big Sky country, I consult and speak across the USA with agencies and groups who are committed to enhancing the quality of nutrition for future generations.
What I can tell you is that child nutrition programs in every state are doing amazing things with school lunch – and with breakfast in the classroom, second chance breakfast, recess before lunch, fresh fruit and vegetable snacks, healthy vending, farm-to-school, school gardens, and nutrition education. And, you don’t have to take my word for it, you can see the photographic evidence and read the delicious descriptions on the School Meals That Rock Facebook page
For me, this lunch from Lolo, Montana, a small town close to the “middle of nowhere” epitomizes what is right
about school lunch. Foodservice Director Linda Free has been making delicious, nutritious meals the norm for years. As a proud winner of a HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award
in 2007, Linda and her team serve meals that meet highest nutrition standards, while also meeting her customers’ desire for great taste. This lunch rocks with a Confetti Quesadilla, Fresh Baked Potato Wedges, Romaine Salad/Dressing, Fresh Watermelon Wedge, Whole Wheat Sugar Cookie, and Choice of Skim or 1% Milk. The quesadilla includes low-fat mozzarella and cheddar cheese, black beans, and red pepper pieces on a whole-wheat tortilla. According to Linda, “I can always expect a large count on the day we serve these.”
It’s essential to remember that school nutrition programs are making these nutritious, delicious things happen against all odds. School meal programs have limited funding from USDA (try producing breakfasts and lunches that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans at around $1.50 and $2.70 respectively) and usually little or no monies from their local district. Cafeterias often have minimal support from administrators and school boards, who just want children to move through quickly and silently, so they can get back to the classroom. And, especially recently, school lunch ladies (and gentlemen) have been getting bashed everywhere they turn – from prime time TV to the Department of Defense.
Bottom line: School nutrition programs can do awesome things; they can – and do – serve plenty of beautifully bright, locally fresh, incredibly tasty breakfasts and lunches. As I say in all my school wellness presentations, where there is a will, there is a way.
What school nutrition programs need to make successful, sustainable changes is your support and involvement. If you come to the table with concrete, realistic solutions for change in small steps, I believe that most school nutrition programs will be open to your ideas. Here are four effective strategies and resources for creating partnerships that help students be fit, well-nourished, and ready to succeed:
- Implement your school wellness policy. Every school is required to have one. Make sure that yours is up-to-date and being used (rather than collecting dust on a shelf).
- Join (or start) a school health advisory council (SHAC). Some states mandate them; every school can use one. American Cancer Society has a useful SHAC guide.
- Enroll your school in Fuel Up To Play 60. This free program puts kids in charge of developing ways to enhance nutrition and activity at school.
Please feel free to contact me if I can assist your efforts in any way. American’s children need all of us working together to insure their healthy future.
Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
2010-2011 Chair, School Nutrition Services DPG
President, Nutrition for the Future
Blogging at Nutrition for the Future
Champion, School Meals That Rock
Author, Treasure Your Families Health: Back to Basics 2010
Columnist, The Billings Gazette