School Lunch: It is More Than You Think!
We have heard your concerns about the new requirements for school lunches. So, the ONIE Project Team ate lunch for several days in a row at local Oklahoma City high schools to see how the federal regulations affect school meals. What we found—Oklahoma City Public Schools has a dedicated Nutrition team comprised of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and other staff committed to feeding every student a healthy, filling, and tasty meal. Like you, they understand the challenges of serving a meal that kids will like and that is good for them.
These are just a few of the strategies they use:
- Offer foods kids like to eat, such as Indian Tacos, pizza, and boneless chicken wings.
- Make healthy modifications to the recipes.
- For example, the Indian Tacos are made with whole grain bread that is baked instead of fried. These changes increase the amount of fiber and reduce the fat.
- Students may make modifications to suit their taste and cultural preferences. For example, kids may add jalapenos for extra flavor.
- School meals are “Offer Versus Serve”, meaning that students are offered different options and may choose the foods they like to eat. These options include hot entrées, build-your-own sandwich, salad bars, and grab-and-go food already packaged—not to mention all of the fruit and veggie sides to go with it!
- There is plenty of food!!! If a student fills their tray with the offered meal components, it will likely fill them up and keep them going through the rest of the school day.
What are the new requirements?
The requirements ensure that each student receives a well-balanced lunch with age appropriate portion sizes. The new requirements include the following:
- Fruit and veggies are offered and are required to be taken at every lunch meal.
- Variety of fruits and veggies
- A variety of fruits and veggies must be served throughout the week. The variety gives students the different vitamins and minerals they need.
- A meat or meat alternative (such as beans) is offered at every lunch.
- A serving of bread or a bread alternative (rice, pasta) is offered at every meal.
- 100% of these grain choices must be whole grain rich
- Low-fat or fat free milk is offered at every lunch meal.
How do the new requirements affect your child?
- At each school lunch, your child must choose at least 3 different food components from the 5 available—a meat, fruit, vegetable, bread, or milk. One of those three choices is required to be a fruit or a veggie, and most of us have room to eat more fruits and veggies.
- Each student is given a healthy meal that has the necessary energy to further success in school. This is important obligation for your school cafeteria staff because research shows that children do not learn well when they are hungry).
- Most schools have a la carte options for students to purchase additional foods outside of the provided school meal.
A lot more goes into school meals than what you may think. Not only is your child receiving a healthy meal, eating habits are being formed. Habits formed in childhood often last a life time. We encourage you to support these changes, and help your child adapt by encouraging them to try new foods when offered. The School Lunch Program is your partner, and these dedicated staff are trying hard to provide the good nutrition to help every student succeed.
The ONIE Project