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Is school food good food?
Many of you have probably heard the folk tale of Nail Soup. In the story, a clever traveler puts a nail into boiling water. He then tricks townsfolk to add their vegetables, meat, and seasonings to his “nail soup” and it becomes a meal fit for royalty.
I’ve found some people imagine a school menu comes together something like that. They assume we bulk-buy the most inexpensive ingredients we can find, prepare mass quantities, then do what we can to stretch every meal.
The truth is, we follow strict federal guidelines on the quality of products and the menus we create. Every meal must meet nutritional standards geared to needs of students, including a specific calorie range and daily recommended allowances for key nutrients for each grade/age group.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets standards for school lunches and continues to provide guidance through specific policy memos. Standards define a “meal pattern” that require menus to incorporate a balance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains, and lean protein in every meal.
Under USDA guidelines, we must offer:
- Fruits at breakfast and lunch.
- Vegetables at lunch, with an emphasis on leafy greens over starches.
- Whole grains.
- Fat-free and low-fat milk.
- Meals with low sodium and no trans fats.
Since we have introduced the MealViewer tool, which you can download on your laptop or smartphone, families can get nutritional information on our entire menu. The Nutrition Calculator feature enables you to track calories, carbs, and fats.
Our work doesn’t stop with food prep. We make an effort to promote healthy eating and educate students about better food choices. For example, we have introduced farm-to-school events to teach students more about locally grown, seasonal produce. These programs support the community and provide an opportunity for hands-on nutrition education.
We also ensure food safety. Our cafeterias managers are certified as food service operators by the Richmond County Health Department. Our cafeteria staffs complete training in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) practices for food safety.
My team is committed to providing meals that are healthy, balanced, varied, and tasty. School food can be good food – and good food at school helps kids develop healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.