FoodFacts.com is happy to report that as our children are getting ready to go back to school, or are already beginning their new academic year, there are many changes happening in their cafeterias nationwide. Those changes aren’t just happening to the menus offered in our schools, they’re also affecting how school lunch workers are approaching their jobs … which may just turn out to be the key to instilling healthier eating habits in cafeterias.
Here are the basics of the changes you can expect:
• Maximum weekly calorie and sodium limits have been established for different student age groups. The limits for sodium intake are being gradually phased in over the coming decade, but there are changes that have been made for this school year. Establish maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals. The sodium limits are phased in over 10 years.
•Schools must now serve a fruit and vegetable every day at lunch and in larger portions than offered before. Portion sizes vary by age group. For instance, high school students will have to be offered one cup of vegetables and one cup of fruit a day.
•Additionally, they must now offer a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red/orange vegetables, starchy vegetables and legumes per week. These serving sizes will also vary by student age – in high school, kids must be offered at least half a cup.
• After the second year of the new regulations, all grains offered to students must be rich in whole grains such as brown rice. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas must list whole grain as the first ingredient.
• Flavored milk, such as chocolate, must now be fat-free.
•There can be no trans fat at all in any foods offered.
Of course, you’ll still be seeing some familiar items on the menus … there will be cheese pizza and submarine sandwiches … but these offerings will be prepared using whole wheat dough and whole wheat rolls. And, unfortunately, French fries wills still count as a vegetable – but they will be baked or roasted and not fried and will have less salt on them than before. And none of the new regulations deal with ingredient lists or preservatives(excepting the exclusion of products containing trans fat), but it is at least a starting point that can be built on in the coming years.
The good news is that the School Nutrition Association has been holding conferences for cafeteria workers to help them take an active role in student lunch choices. Here they are being encouraged to actively motivate kids to make healthier choices on the lunch line. Part of that will be marketing the food to the children. Everything from how the food is laid out on the line and how it is labeled will hopefully be very different. For instance, give the vegetable of the day a more interesting name than just the vegetable itself so that the label holds more attraction for the students. Place baskets of fruits and veggies by the checkout – instead of unhealthier options. There’s research that proves that kids are more apt to pick up the grab and go item at the checkout than when it’s placed elsewhere. But most importantly, the workers are being encouraged to speak with the kids about the foods being offered that day … to promote them by interacting with the kids, just as though they were the wait staff at a restaurant promoting daily specials to customers.
Overall, FoodFacts.com thinks these efforts are a wonderful beginning for our kids in the cafeteria line. After all, what good is revamping the lunch choices if those choices remain uneaten? With better choices and a little encouragement, we may very well see kids at every grade level becoming more adventurous with their lunch line selections. And it’s possible that as the program moves forward, we can advocate for further regulations regarding the products chosen based on their ingredient lists.