The AJC has a good story today about the ongoing evolution of school lunches, an issue that has gained more attention due to the First Lady’s commitment to ending childhood obesity.
Among the changes: More focus on the presentation of meals and more effort to cajole students into eating more fruits and veggies. Gwinnett has had luck with a salad of watermelon, cucumber, orange and mint but not with a watermelon, feta cheese and basil salad. (I have been finding the latter at potlucks this summer. I don’t like it, either, but everyone else does.)
In prior blogs, we have discussed whether schools can serve as ground zero for combating the childhood obesity epidemic in this country. Schools can’t control how students eat once the dismissal bell rings. I often see middle and high school students going straight from school to either Starbuck’s or Dairy Queen. Regardless of which, most kids walk out with frothy, calorie-laden drinks.
I also think that chips — considered party food when I was growing up — are now a staple of children’s diets. I was paying for gas this weekend at a convenience store in north Georgia and saw a youth group en route back to Atlanta from North Carolina. The youth leaders were gassing up the church van, and the kids were grabbing a snack. Almost everyone had a bag of chips and a soda.
Given a choice at a QuikTrip, my twins will immediately go to the salt and vinegar chips. However, as a result of their health classes, they have turned against soda, opting now for bottled water. So, I don’t doubt that schools have some influence.
More than 500,000 kids eat lunch in public school every day in metro Atlanta (DeKalb, Cobb, City of Atlanta, Fulton, Rockdale and Gwinnett school systems). This year they’ll be exposed to more varieties of vegetables — including sweet potatoes — and fruits and salads than at any time since federally subsidized lunch programs began in the 1940s.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Meal Pattern (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, which became effective July 1, calorie limits are set for meals: grades k-5, 550-650 calories; grades 6-8, 600-700 calories; grades 9-12, 750-850 calories. Schools must certify they are fulfilling the requirements and non-compilers risk losing subsidies.
Schools are required to serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables, and students must take at least one fruit or vegetable serving per meal. Schools must offer dark green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added trans-fat and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk. Under the new regulations all grains — in breads and pastas — must be “whole grain rich.”
Strategies to win the hearts, minds and stomachs of kids differ from school system to school system. In Rockdale, schools are trying to introduce the new grub under the radar. They don’t talk about it; they just serve it, said Lawrence, who is a national spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association.
“My thinking was, it will be more easily accepted if we didn’t make a big deal about it,” she said.
At Atlanta Public Schools, it’s a different story since first lady Michelle Obama visited Burgess-Peterson Academy elementary school in East Atlanta last year, handing out fresh blueberry snacks and touring the school’s organic garden to promote the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Georgia was an obvious choice; the state ranked No. 2 in the nation in childhood obesity according to a 2007 study.
As in most schools, APS students can still order pizza, submarine sandwiches, hamburgers and chicken nuggets at an a la cart stations in cafeterias. (The days of a single cafeteria line all but disappeared about 15 years ago). But there’s increased emphasis now on fresh produce and where it came from. Atlanta schools get their collard greens from a grower in Valdosta.
“It’s better nutrition and kids learn where food comes from, rather than food just being on their plate,”said Marilyn Hughes, APS director of Nutritional Programs.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog