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.
On my Nutrition for the Future blog, I make it crystal clear that I am not defending poorly performing school meal programs. If they haven’t taken advantage of what’s available from their state offices, Team Nutrition, or Action for Healthy Kids, they are on their own as far as I’m concerned.
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.
- Support a HealthierUS School Challenge Award application. Schools get great recognition and $500 to $2000 incentive awards.
- 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
17 thoughts on “Guest blog: School Meals That Rock”
Dayle, this is a completely awesome blog! It gives us so much useful info and it's encouraging that some schools have figured out how to do school lunch the right way while working within "the system." Thank you for this.
I have been thinking of you after hearing this podcast on Australian radio.
It is about preventing obesity in school children. There is a great segment on kitchen gardens with a leading Australian cook who teaches students about growing food and cooking it.
The podcast is here: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2010/06/bbg_20100613.mp3
The transcript is here:
Dayle, as a member of the American Dietetic Association, do you have any explanation for that organization's continuing promotion of low-fat and fat-free foods, given the increasing evidence that natural fats are absolutely necessary for optimal health, and their replacements (modern vegetable oils) are responsible for systemic inflammation and contributing to metabolic syndrome? Or the heavy emphasis on grains, when the only reason to eat them is if you would otherwise starve to death? (Since the "cheap price" of grains in America is due solely to their subsidized status, I don't view that as an argument in their favor.)
I would be really happy if my daughter's elementary school served lunches that looked like that.
The "School Meals that Rock" facebook link has some amazing stories of fabulous things going on in school cafeterias. I am interested to know if this is being done in larger districts. We have @60k students, and are required to keep things uniform at all of the schools of the same level (elementary and secondary), and our school cafeterias are now operated on a for profit basis, even though they still must follow federal guidelines. Does anyone know about any of this?
Awesome post! I mean it. That is not a word I use frequently. A cafeteria that serves whole grain foods on one of the most popular food days is a real winner. Thank you for telling us where to find more of the good news regarding school lunches. Thank you especially for being specific about how we can get involved and help. Being a grandmother with no public-school age grandchildren (One more year!), I was unaware of some of the programs you mentioned. I'm off to visit those links. Good stuff.
Wow…good to know that schools are taking up steps to ensure that students get healthy meals. It's also better to replace junk food vending machines with healthy food vending machines.
What are kids in other countries eating? Why is everyone out there thinner than we are? I lived in Tokyo for 16 years and upon returning to the US, was shocked by the toxic food environment in this culture. The more junk we feed our kids, the more they want it. The more healthy food we feed our kids, the more they want that. We, the adults, need to hand the kids the healthy stuff. It is our responsibilty. Get the junk out of schools.
Watch the 2nd episode of this season's Top Chef D.C. – the challenge is to make a school lunch on a realistic set dollar amount.
I second frogfarm's question!!! I'll take my wonderful pastured butter, grass-fed tallow, coconut oil and non hydrogenated lard ANY day over all the nasty and unnatural vegetable oils that are promoted in this country.
My family has been eating only natural saturated fats for over a year now, and we've never been healthier, felt better, and we have NOT gained any weight! In fact, my husband has lost some weight.
Dayle, thanks for your insights. It's good to hear that school lunch programs (and schools generally) sometimes do awesome things with limited funding.
Actually as of today, I have another one: Dayle, do you support the ADA trying to monopolize nutrition education through legislation such as Public Act 333? See michigannutritionassociation.org for full details if this is news to you as well.
Why can't food at my school look like this?? ):
Dale: I'm a member of a Parent Advisory Committee to Aramark/Houston ISD Food Services as well as the blogger behind The Lunch Tray (www.thelunchtray.com). I'm very familiar with the financial and regulatory constraints on school lunch programs and wanted to find out – do you know how much Lolo, Montana charges for the lunch you show in the picture (for fully paying students)? And are they getting any other monies (grants, etc.) to fund their lunch program? Thanks in advance for any info.
What fun to read this post & then to see Dayle is from our hometown! We homeschool, so we have precious little involvement with school lunches. However, I am deeply concerned with the health our our friends, family, and our community as a whole. Our church works closely with the local schools and I'm beginning to wonder if there isn't some way to help in the nutrition arena?!
To answer Bettina's questions:
* Lolo charged $1.75 for a paid student lunch (2009-10 school year).
* The MT state office of Child Nutrition is not aware of any other funding for their lunch program, aside from normal USDA reimbursement.
I hope that information is useful to you. Please let me know if I can help in any other way!
Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
Nutrition for the Future, Inc.
3112 Farnam St., Billings, MT 59102
FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock
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