School lunches: I’ll have the watermelon, cucumber, orange, mint salad.

Schools are moving to healthier school lunches.  (AP Images.)

Schools are moving to healthier school lunches. (AP Images.)

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.

According to the AJC:

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

54 comments Add your comment


August 6th, 2012
9:25 am

The vegans, peanut-haters etc. will all get their say…..and school kids will be eating kelp and tofu……………….


August 6th, 2012
9:27 am

I’m going to hope this happens at my school. We generally have fresh fruit choice every day, but every day brings some kind of heavily breaded, heavily salted “meat” as well. The manager says, “That is all they will eat.” Now that may be true, but with 75%+ free lunch, we should be exposing them to better food than that! My other gripe is that so much of the food is pre-wrapped–what a lot of packaging it uses! And what about the landfills?


August 6th, 2012
9:28 am

You can try all you want, but the kids are gonna end up throwing away most of the vegetables. School cafeteria food was (and probably still is) disgusting, and their “vegetables” were always soggy and overcooked. Forcing kids to take at least one vegetable per meal will result in a lot of wasted food. And I’m not just blowing wind here, I remember how I was when I was that age.

William Casey

August 6th, 2012
9:42 am

School lunches improved in variety and taste between 1955 when I began first grade and 2006 when I retired from teaching. In terms of nutrition, not so much. I have my doubts as to how much a heavy-handed, bureaucratic approach will work on teenagers. I favor offering better choices, though. I believe that any real improvement will be gradual, taking generations.

Old timer

August 6th, 2012
9:42 am

My own, now 30ish children will opt for water…always have because their father and I do not drink soft drinks. My students, when I retired, used to bring large sodas and chips etc to subsidize their free lunch nearly everyday. We would encourage them not to, but……….
Many were very overweight


August 6th, 2012
9:47 am

Let’s start a home pantry revolution. Let’s try to regulate home kitchens…or rather, let’s try regulating successfully the fast food drive thru. Yeah. See how that goes over. The long arm of government is too long. While I can certainly buy some regulation in an institution that takes a small, small amount of federal money (the public school), be honest. The school will be no more successful at forcing healthy habits that Mom/Dad/Grandmama/Auntie is at home. I applaud the school nutrition folks for trying harder than anyone else to get kids to eat well. But government, pls. stop spending our tax dollars on these studies and mandates. Pls. put the money toward our real domestic enemies: elimination of gov. control and regs, drug distribution and infiltration, and gangs.

Hillbilly D

August 6th, 2012
10:01 am

not with a watermelon, feta cheese and basil salad.

Throw out the cheese and the salad and that sounds pretty good to me.

My other gripe is that so much of the food is pre-wrapped–what a lot of packaging it uses! And what about the landfills?

Don’t forget plastic water bottles, which not only fill up landfills (let’s face it, lots of people don’t bother with recycling) but they’re also a petroleum product.

Since most kids, these days, get little or no exercise away from school, maybe they need to re-emphasize PE and recess. Let them run around 30 minutes or an hour and burn off some of the calories.


August 6th, 2012
10:16 am

I don’t know if you caught it but one of the requirements is 1% or non-fat milk. I’m almost 40 and that milk is awful! I’d rather my children drink whole (or maybe 2%) and at least get some nutritional value than be forced to bring a drink from home because they can’t drink the watered-down milk.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
10:17 am

Have you all watched Jamie Oliver’s TEDTalk in 2010? I think you better watch it.

Atlanta is ranked as the 2nd highest city with child obesity in this country! Schools should definitely be “ground zerio.” If they’re not being taught to eat healthy foods at home, then start it at school!

It’s that simple. We are supposed to develop the mind, body and spirit in school, but that is clearly not happening in Georgia’s schools, or most public schools in the nation for that matter!


August 6th, 2012
10:28 am

What is wrong with a bowl of soup beans and a crust of beans, if the kids are hungry they will eat them, if not, then they lose weight! Yeah, I want my cheesy poofs:


August 6th, 2012
10:30 am

living in an outdated ed system – that is great news, we should lead the nation is producing offensive and defensive linemen! Wide receivers, not so much.


August 6th, 2012
10:38 am

Another socialist commentary! What we should eat, drink, and soon to come what to wear.

Judge Smails

August 6th, 2012
10:42 am

Kids will eat what they eat at home. Period. If they eat healthy snacks like friut and vegetables by their choice, then that’s what they will eat at home and school. If they eat chicken nuggets and pop tarts at home, guess what they will eat at school?

And no, the ” Government ” has no business dictating what they eat. That’s the parents job.


August 6th, 2012
10:54 am

This is a no brainer as kids are obese now but weren’t when I was in school. It starts at the school level and at home, but the schools need to set the example of a healthy, well rounded diet. Habits should be learned at these young ages. This is absolutely common sense.

It wouldn’t hurt for adults to start eating healthier, too. Your bad eating habits keep my health insurance rates high as you are getting sicker due to your obesity and junk food mentality.


August 6th, 2012
11:01 am

Hey…let’s make it safe or convince parents that it is safe for kids to walk or ride their bikes to school. Let’s put side walks in the burbs. Kids can eat whatever if they play and walk and ride like we did when we were kids.


August 6th, 2012
11:06 am

Why does the government want well educated, physically fit young people? Do I smell the military-industrial complex at work here?

bootney farnsworth

August 6th, 2012
11:08 am

Matt is dead on in one point.
mass produced veggies usually stink.

if this is gonna fly, they have to find a way to make both better tasting options and said options need to be veggies and fruit kids might actually eat.

as for the whole concept, present kids the option to eat as they wish – if they are paying for it.
if its a gov’t financed meal, then make it healthy.


August 6th, 2012
11:09 am

Isn’t it time traditional K-8 public schools focused on getting the basics across … literacy, numeracy and science … and left everything else for later?

Typical Redneck

August 6th, 2012
11:20 am

My daughter will be taking her lunch. Meredith does have a good point. When I was young we had PE and recess. We also played outside all summer, after school and on the weekends instead of playing video games. Kids were healthy then.


August 6th, 2012
11:25 am

I can’t believe all the people on this blog that are actually complaining that schools are trying to feed their kids healthier foods. If you don’t like what the school is serving then pack a lunch. If you are on “free” lunch then chances are your kids are not getting enough healthy nutritious food at home and you should be GRATEFUL that taxpayers are feeding your children 1 (or 2!) healthy balanced meals a day for you.


August 6th, 2012
11:30 am

You can talk about healthy school lunches all you want, but until Jack/Jill starts moving and being active all you will have is a bunch of kids being regular when they go to the bathroom.

Tax dollars at work

August 6th, 2012
11:31 am

I’ve never understood the Nanny state argument here… if we are paying to feed kids with public funds, those meals should be healthy. Period. Atlanta needs to be healthier. Period. Don’t see to many fat people in nursing homes do you?

Once Again

August 6th, 2012
11:45 am

The USDA and their food pyramid, their agriculture subsidies, and their complicity with the takeover of the america market by processed food manufacturers has led to this situation. You don’t actually think the pyramid (regardless of which horrible version you choose – unless it is the one from 75+ years ago that was actually not so bad) has anything to do with health do you??? It is all a cleverly crafted propaganda piece to encourage parents and children alike to want to eat all of the processed crap the folks from ADM, Kellogs, P&G, Kraft, Monsanto, etc. NEED them to consume in order for them to be massively profitable.

School lunch programs, free government cheese programs, all of the dairy and grain subsidies, etc. have all always been about creating a windfall profit for the crap creators in our society. School lunches are the proverbial dumping ground for this stuff and it works out perfectly because most american parents are feeding their children this same crap every night so the kids tollerate and even look forward to it at school. Or worse, parents are trying to feed their kids well but the kids love this sugar laden crap and the “buzz” it creates so they want it more than the good stuff.

Of couse as has been noted, being basically prisons, the schools provide similar food quality and taste so why would kids enjoy vegetables prepared in this fashion.

Jamie Oliver constantly bangs his head against the wall when he tries to improve school lunches, but of course he is going after the symptom, not the root cause. Government schools don’t work. They are not a place for kids to receive a quality education OR a quality meal. Get rid of government involvement in agriculture, education, and everything else and we might be able to return society to something that benefits everyone instead of just those connected with perpetuating the monopolies.

mountain man

August 6th, 2012
12:38 pm

Perhaps we should just feed them Nutriloaf, like we do recalcitrant prisoners, that with warm water to drink. And definitely don’t let them bring anything from home.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
1:07 pm

Solutions, what is your solution?

school lunch is off the table

August 6th, 2012
1:13 pm

So happy for the one good thing that has come out of my child’s recent diagnosis of celiac disease. Though the schools are apparently required to provide a safe meal for my child, there is no way we are risking his health due to not only the nutritional issues, but cross contamination in addition to the food just not being very palatable and the workers not terribly knowledgeable, sad to say. He is glad to bring lunch from home so that is one less worry for me.

mystery poster

August 6th, 2012
1:27 pm

Soylent green, anyone?

mystery poster

August 6th, 2012
1:28 pm

My sister-in-law made a watermelon, fresh mint, and feta salad this summer. I like the melon/mint combination, but didn’t really think that the feta added anything to it. Last year, she did an arugula, melon, and balsamic reduction which was excellent.

That girl can cook :-)


August 6th, 2012
1:55 pm

It’s a joke trying to force children to eat by some menu determined to be “healthy.” If it’s rejected then they’ll simply find some other option.

The issue of being forced to sit for a majority of the day with no outlet or direction for physical activity is certainly worth noting. If they aren’t directed to do something aside from sit and learn, then it’s no surprise that this activity is replicated while at home.

Physical activity is mandatory in some education systems through classes or clubs, it’s odd that this is no longer the case here. At least P.E. makes sense when students are forced to participate, they learn social skills as well as an activity they may or may not have done before. Not to mention, they burn calories, exercise, and if they like the sport they even have a motivation to continue it outside of school. Without exposure to such things, they have no idea. Instead they only know that they have to make the grade and how to sit for a majority of the day.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
3:14 pm

Watch Jamie Oliver’s 2011 TED Talk and then come back and comment on this.

living in an outdated ed system

August 6th, 2012
3:20 pm

And let me say it again. Atlanta has the 2nd highest concentration of obese children in the country! That means schools, parents AND communities need to do something, and FAST.

Mountain Man

August 6th, 2012
4:02 pm

“Soylent green, anyone?”

From the book or from the movie? Stupid movie ignores the fact that there are not enough people dying to make that a food source.

OrganWise Guys

August 6th, 2012
4:03 pm

We’re very proud to be working with all of elementary and middle schools in GA to help educate children about these healthy choices in the cafeteria. The department of education invested in our Foods of the Month ( program for every school in Georgia to help make the cafeteria an educational place for children. Way to go GA!

mystery poster

August 6th, 2012
4:10 pm

@Mountain Man
I must confess, I never read the book or saw the movie.
For some reason that popped into my head when I read the article.


August 6th, 2012
4:12 pm

Does anyone else find it disturbing that no one wants to make the parents take responsibility for their children. If a parent does not feed their child properly and causes them to become malnourished, is that not considered child-abuse. But if a parent allows their child to eat anything they want and become obese, that’s okay?

Parents, teach take the time to teach your children proper eating habits and to eat healthy foods.

Public HS Teacher

August 6th, 2012
4:19 pm

Education needs to get out of the resturant business. Close all school cafeterias and let the children bring lunches from school. Think of the money that will save!!!!

Public HS Teacher

August 6th, 2012
4:21 pm

Oh, and if the parents do not send lunch with their child to school – turn in the parents for child abuse!!!

Pride and Joy

August 6th, 2012
4:24 pm

Chips and soda shouldn’t even be allowed in school. The cost of chips and soda is more than the cost of the school lunch. Once again, many of the free school lunch crowd is giving we taxpayers the shaft — again.

another comment

August 6th, 2012
4:48 pm

I buy 90% of the food for my family and from Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s I couldn’t even think of buying fruits, vegetibales, meats or seafood from anyplace else. Sure we pay alot more, but my daughters are slender like I was in the 1960’s and 1970s.

It made me so made when I found out through a phone call that my high school daughter’s teacher that she was eating a pop tart in class. I said you must be mistaken, I have never bought a pop tart in my life. She said no, there is machine with them right outside my classroom, and your daughter buys them and eats them during my class. I told the teacher, I thought the Principal was bragging at the Open house how he was turning off the Coke machines durring class hours. She tells me, that didn’t include the snack machines. I was incensed. I thanked the teacher for letting me know, and told her my daughter would not be eating in her class again. I would also be calling the principal about his misleading parents by his 1/2 truth about turning off the machines.


August 6th, 2012
5:05 pm

For some students, school meals are the only meals they are provided during the day, so I would definitely support healthier options. Last year, our county embarked on a farm to school initiative where they brought in one, fresh and locally-grown produce item once a month. We had parents in the cafeteria those days encouraging students to try the special items. Many did and the cafeteria staff reported that they saw an increase in healthier choices by students in the lunch line (note, this is elementary school and I suspect that this wouldn’t help in middle or high school). If you add healthier items and promote it, I think some students eating habits would improve.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

August 6th, 2012
7:05 pm

Children WILL eat healthier, if that is what they are exposed to and encouraged to do. My mother rarely bought chips or cookies, and never soda, so I see those items as treats I allow myself on special occasions. When I was a child, my family began drinking low fat milk. The change was a shock, but after a couple weeks, we got used to it. Now, I can’t stomach whole milk – I have to water it down. We stopped adding salt to any dish, and now I find most processed food far too salty. We also cut way back on sugar. So now, I water down juice, which I find too sweet, and can pass by many sweets. My mother stopped frying things, and now I find fried food far too greasy. My parents made it clear, if you did not like what was being served, you could go hungry or have peanut butter and jelly. None of this, “I have to serve McDonalds, because that is all little Johnny will eat!” Today, I love fresh veggies, fruits, and grains. I mostly eat lean meats. Food choices can become a habit – the trick is to encourage a habit of GOOD choices. If you give up by saying, “They won’t eat it” without even trying, then you are doing the children a disservice.

Public HS Teacher

August 6th, 2012
8:44 pm

Again, can someone…. anyone…. tell me why it is the responsibility of the education system to feed kids?

All of this heated discussion about “healthy” foods and soda machines and so on makes no sense to me at all when it comes to schools.

Schools and school systems should simply provide NO FOOD OR DRINK at all. Water fountains are fine. Beyond that it should be the parents responsibility. If the parents want their kids to eat junk food, then they can put it in their child’s lunch bag.

Our tax dollars ear-marked for education should go to just that – EDUCATION. It should not go to cafeteria workers, fry machines, and so on.

If a parent sends their child to school with no lunch, then the solution is simply – turn in that parent for child neglect. That is what social services are for.

Public HS Teacher

August 6th, 2012
8:45 pm

simply = simple. Sorry for the error.

Ed Johnson

August 6th, 2012
9:52 pm

Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Making Kids Fat?

Researchers recreate bee collapse with pesticide-laced [high fructose] corn syrup

King Corn (Documentary)

Beverly Fraud

August 6th, 2012
10:23 pm

What might happen if you took all the money you spent on “reform” and instead told students if you CHOOSE to behave, we will actually give you a choice of TASTY food at lunch? You don’t think that might be a bit more enticing than “reform du jour”?

How many Johnnies would turn off the Angus Young on their IPODs during class if they had a chance to eat a 100% Angus beef burger at lunch instead of some soybean laced “mystery meat” covered with pink slime.

Of course someone would whine about the “poor food choices” chronic disrupters would have not at all realizing they are setting many of them up (by not introducing consequences into their lives) to have “poor food choices” in prison.

Or maybe they wanted that way because they’ve invested in privatized prisons?

Questions we can’t talk about, because at the FUNDAMENTAL CORE OF OUR BEING, “we the people” aren’t willing to be honest.


August 7th, 2012
6:07 am

I didn’t get time to check out the “healthier” school lunch yesterday, but the “healthier” breakfast consisted of a rather dry biscuit, canned peaches, and a bowl of sugary cold cereal. There was also the obligatory carton of milk.

It seems to me that substituting some source of protein for the cold cereal might have been a step in the right direction.


August 7th, 2012
6:08 am

And if school food is all some students are getting, we ought to make it healthy – if they are hungry, they will eat it!


August 7th, 2012
8:42 am

I know I’m an old fogey, but why does everything have to be so complicated? Give them a good, balanced lunch. If they don’t like it, they can bring their lunch. Get rid of the soda and snack machines. Reinstate recess and active P.E. time. Let those children run off that extra energy and those extra calories. Also, it really peeves me that we’re spending money to provide breakfast because parents are too lazy or irresponsible to give their children a basic meal before they go to school. That’s abuse. Use those food stamps to buy some real food.


August 7th, 2012
8:48 am

ScienceTeacher671, schools were not required for SY2012-2013 to make the healthier switch for breakfast, only lunch. SY2013-2014 they will be required to meet the new nutritional standards for breakfast as well, so the dry biscuit, canned peaches, and sugary cereal will not be allowed as a reimbursable meal next year.


August 8th, 2012
6:25 am

amynora, our cafeteria people tell me that they are no longer allowed to serve meat or eggs at breakfast, because those have too many calories. Apparently someone, somewhere, has given them new breakfast requirements.