Guest blogger: School Nutrition Association President, Ms. Dora Rivas

*** 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.
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64 thoughts on “Guest blogger: School Nutrition Association President, Ms. Dora Rivas

  1. See, this is another reason I will be homeschooling my daughter. There's no evidence that low-fat dairy is healthier. In fact there have been studies showing that the human body assimilates calcium better in the presence of dietary fat. If you leave the fat out you might as well flush the calcium down the toilet. The low-fat craze was already well underway when I graduated high school in 1992 and some of the girls in my basic training platoon wound up dropping out of training due to stress fractures. One even broke her leg while running–no, she did not fall, she literally broke it BY running. It wasn't the soda habit because I had one too, but my bones were stronger.

    If we want our young men and women to start breaking their hips in their forties instead of their sixties then let's just keep going the way we're going. I'm tired of government handing down decrees of what we should and shouldn't eat based in pseudoscience. And this is coming from someone who considers herself "liberal" and does not automatically distrust everything government does–although maybe I should, given how the dietary thing is panning out.

    My daughter started getting cavities soon after she got her teeth. Not the very latest time she went to the dentist but the time before that, they told me she had a cavity just barely starting but they'd keep an eye on it. I upped the fat in her diet, insisting on things like butter for her bread (the real stuff, not margarine). This time they said there were no new cavities at all. Same dentist, and my daughter is very cooperative, she loves going to the "tooth doctor." (She's five now!)

    Something's gotta give… if I left it up to the state to tell me how to feed her, she'd probably be on Ritalin by now. You need fat for your brain too.

  2. I was on a school field trip yesterday and saw the lunch that was being offered. It was a bag of baked chips, a pear fruit cup in syrup, chocolate milk and a juice, and a ham and cheese sandwich. I was equally impressed by the peanut butter crackers and the apple the teacher was passing out to her kids for a snack. I am by far not a nutritionist, the meal seemed similar to a subway meal and was fairly decent. I love your blog, you have made me aware of what my child is being fed. He eats breakfast and lunch at school, being on a tough tough budget, its affordable. Thank you for this post.

  3. I guess Ms. Obama has no understanding that cafeterias don't prepare food, it comes from a corporation. As I looked through this blog, I notice that all the food is in little plastic containers. This food is just heat and served junk containing all kinds of processing chemicals. Those chicken nuggets are not just nuggets of chicken, but grind up chicken put together with some binding agent. It is time to start feeding children real food, not that corporate junk they are not buying and serving.

  4. I have dedicated my professional career to school nutrition and am appauled at this blog and what people believe. Jamie Oliver and his food revolution is nothing more than reality TV at it's best. He knew nothing about the nutrition standards in place in the program (one thing any good consultant would do is understand the basic program before going in), he had horrible sanitation practices, he was rude and very demeaning to the women in the kitchen and he is a chef with very little background in nutrition. where did his chicken come from? I bet that quantity of chicken was from some large corporate farm – and just legs – where quite a bit of the fat is? Who paid for the labor to pan it all? Where was the large cooler needed to thaw the frozen product? And breakfast pizza? It has the same ingredients as a quiche – only the pizza is probably lower in fat – whole grain biscuit crust, scrambled eggs, lo fat cheese and maybe lo fat, lo sodium sausage. Shame on ABC for allowing such a nasty attack on working Americans – yes, men and women that work very hard for relatively low pay in an unthankful job. Shame on the school district of Hunnington for not solving thier concerns in a more professional way. There are thousands of school districts across this country doing wonderful things in their school nutrition programs. In most cases, because we are not in competition with one another we are willing to share our ideas and solutions. One question people ought to ask their school districts is: How much training have you offered your school nutrition staff? In many of the districts that I have done consulting for, the first issue I see is that the school nutrition staff is not offered any professional training. This is the first step to making change. The second step certainly is funding. How sad is it that we argue at the federal level to get $2.68 for the total preparation, labor and food for a free meal? And then in many a district we are in competition with every club and coach selling anything they want irregardless of the nutritional content.
    It won't matter what you serve (some say if healthy food is all that is available they will eat it – they are wrong – students sell it out of their lockers and cars or students go to the local gas station to buy what they want) without nutrition education in our schools, students will not have the basics to make wise choices.
    The school nutrition program is complex, lets stop the media bashing, fund nutrition programs in schools as part of the school day,(as a school nutrition director I spend a lot of time collecting income data), give parents part of the responsibility to teach their children how to choose wisely,(bag lunches are much lower in nutritional quality than any school lunch) put nutrition education back in our schools, and bring your TV cameras to the silent heros (those that don't seek the TV reality sensationalism) that are working in districts that have invested in their children by investing in their school nutrition program.
    Katie Wilson, SNS,PhD School Nutrition Director in WI

  5. Hi Everyone. As a registered dietitian, food service director, and mother of two 9 year-old boys, here are a few of my thoughts regarding school lunches.

    Change legislation to reduce mandated caloric levels of the school breakfast and lunches, and by a range of 100-200, depending on the grade level.

    Think safety first. I will continue to send poultry and beef to reputable food manufacturers because I know they have a hazard analysis critical control point system in place and also a food recall method, should I need to pull possibly contaminated food from the shelf. The majority of food manufacturers have been tremendously responsive to the various state legislation that requires lower fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. They continue to be an allies to school nutrition. And let us not forget they employ many Americans.

    I balance the processed entrée with fresh fruits and vegetables, on our produce bars. At the elementary level, we do not do much lettuce, but more jicama sticks, cucumber slices, orange wedges, grapes, and other season fruit and vegetables. I also offer baked potatoes or sweet potato for an alternative entrée choice. I stopped buying organic from individual farmers, simply because there were expense and sanitation issues. Our distributor purchases locally whenever possible and the can recall a product if it is thought to be contaminated. Mainly, they keep our pricing down, so I can continue to put the kid friendly fruit, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon on the menu when it is in season.

    For bread, we switched from a frozen food distributor to a local bread company. The bread is made fresh and we use a mixture of whole wheat and white wheat products. Their products are wonderful and because it is their business to bake bread, their product is consistent in taste and quality. Again, they employee local people.

    Our local dairy producer and distributor provides us with 1% white milk or nonfat milk served at breakfast and lunch, along with nonfat chocolate milk at lunch too. I will try for 1-2 months to remove the flavored milk at lunch at a few sites; however, if milk consumption drops, I will add back the flavored milk. As a dietitian and food service director, I know that children today do not get enough calcium in the diet. As with the American Academy of Pediatrics, if it takes a low fat flavored milk to get them to drink their milk, it is an acceptable exchange of calories. And do you know where that fat goes that they take out of the school lunch milk? At a workshop I attended yesterday, we were told by a dairy person that the fat is sent to fast food establishments for their milk shakes, and a few well-known candy stores as well.

    The national school lunch is the most legislated meal in America, and it should be since it is funded by taxpayer dollars. In California we also have senate bills and assembly bills that dictate the amount of calories for ala carte and snack food. And of course the food service departments no longer sell sodas. We are hopeful that these regulations will extend to school fundraisers as well.

    I suggest we also turn our eye to the food stamp program, as recipients are allowed to purchase any food, with no regard for nutritional quality. In fact, in some states the electronic debit card (EBT) can be used at fast food establishments.

    And of course, cooking from scratch and eating meals at home as a family, provides much more than nutritious meals!!!

    Anna Apoian, Hawthorne School District, California

  6. I love to have parents come to school and have breakfast or lunch with their child. Usually, they are concerned that there is so little time for lunch. It is interesting to me that so many people will use such a broad brush stroke and attack all school meals as bad. When I go out to dinner, I am amazed at what people eat with no thought for calories. Adults can not afford to eat the number of calories a growing child needs to eat. Maybe, like the old Pogo cartoon where he is looking in the mirror fits the problem,"I have met the enemy." We all need to make serious adjustments in how we eat and move oour bodies. While I'm not impressed with the latest reality effort, (because the man has no food safety training) perhaps he will cause people to look at their whole daily grazing. Change is difficult but not impossible.

  7. School Nutrition Programs have had fresh fruits,fresh salad bars and healthy options available to children since the mid 1990's. If a child ate beakfast and lunch everyday (180) at school they would consume 360 meals. That leaves 735 meals that they are consuming outside of school. Wellness includes physical activity as well as nutrition. In addition to offering healthy meals at school,a healthy nutrition culture must permeate the whole school environment. There must be adequate time to consume those meals as well as adequate time for physical education activities and unorganized play. Equally important are the snack and meal offerings at home and the family physical activities such as bicycle riding, hiking,skiing,etc.

  8. The maority of schools that participate in the National School Meals Programs are offering students fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats. Processed products must be produced to exact specifications as to fat, salt sugar content. Sanitation and safety regulations for schools are more stringent than public restaurants because they are feeding an "at risk" customer.
    Most Food and Nutrition staff acquire training,at their own expense, on their own if it is not offered through their district. These dedicated, caring professionals advocate for the CNP through their local, state and National School Nutrition Associations.
    Lunch Ladies and Gentlemen are thinking only of the children they serve not the next book or film deal they may get.
    Sally Parks, SNS
    Elkton, MD

  9. We have Home made baked goods-transfat free, home made soups and sauces and soups and dressings.We serve 3-5 kinds of fresh fruit daily. We have a salad bar at every site. We have high participation. We have kids excited to eat lunch! We have trained dedicated professionals. We look for every avenue for assistance possible! We support farm to school. This is our passion in life!

  10. Many of us know there are great things happening at many schools across America. Those of us that point out those improvements would probably also agree that our job still is not done. At our district, we have included salad bars at all 9 schools. We are beginning, with the help of volunteers, to include school-grown produce into our menu. We are working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to continue to make improvements that far exceed state and federal requirements. However, further improvement does require parental support. I can provide a student an apple, I can tell them why its healthy, but if parents at home continue to buy them french fries, our message does not go very far. Yet at the end of the day, we will be blamed for making their children obese.

  11. I just started looking through your blog recently and decided I had to comment since my district was mentioned. I have lived in Fairfax, VA my entire life. And although they do offer a small selection of fruits and vegetables every day, they are far from a good nutrition model.

    Every single day they serve french fries, in fact it has been the first thing I can remember seeing in line since elementary school. By the time you hit middle school, pizza is also a daily option. They have a few fruits and vegetables, and usually they even have a larger salad available. But the cookies, chips, ice creams, muffins, and other junk out number the healthy foods available easily 4 to 1.

    My particular school tried to head in a healthier direction when I was there (about 4 years ago). They eliminated the cookies that they make at school and only offered an oatmeal raisin. It lasted about 3 days before they decided it wasn't worth the lost profit the cookies brought in.

    My county may offer the healthier alernatives yes, but it doesn't do much when they're couched in between fries and cookies.

  12. Did anyone think it was interesting that Dora Rivas did not mention what was going on in her own district, Dallas ISD? I find it odd that she pointed out the successes of others, but failed to mention one thing Dallas is doing. I know she is speaking for all the districts across the nation, but what she should know best, is what's going on in Dallas. Mrs.Q, do you have any information on what they are doing?

  13. This is great to read. But as a Texan, I'm not surprised that Spring serves raw jicama and beets and the kids love it – Spring is a well-off area. It's great that this happens, but I think the bigger concern are kids in poor urban schools.

    (And to hopeful dietitian – Yeah. I used to live in Dallas and while there were several reasons my parents sent me to private school, one was how awful the food was. It may be better now, but I'd be surprised.)

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