Change You Can Taste:
School Lunch Program Gets a Makeover Article from blogs.usda.gov
Written by Audrey Rowe, Food & Nutrition Service Administrator and Dave Shipman, Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator
When you walk around many of the nation’s cafeterias, you will
notice that plenty of changes have taken place on school lunch
menus. Thanks to new standards and other efforts by the USDA,
the lunches for our children have become healthier.
The new standards, which were implemented for the 2012-2013
school year, made significant improvements to the National School
Lunch Program. Some of the changes include offering only fatfree
or low-fat milk options, ensuring that fruits and vegetables are
served every day of the week, and increasing the amount of whole
grain-rich foods on menus.
USDA has a large role in making these healthy menu changes
possible. The department’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers
the National School Lunch Program while the Agricultural
Marketing Service (AMS) purchases the program’s meats, poultry,
fruits, and vegetables. In total, USDA purchases about 15 to 20
percent of the products in the School Lunch Program.
“We take pride in what we do here at USDA,” said AMS’ Commodity
Procurement Branch Chief Duane Williams. “In the past couple of
years, we made a concerted effort to purchase healthier products.
Our team of experts has helped us do things like reducing the fat
and sodium levels in many of our products.”
Recently, Patriot High School in Nokesville, Va., held a food tasting.
This open house invited all of the students and parents in the
Prince William County School District to sample some potential
foods that may be on the menu next year. A team of USDA employees
got a chance to participate in the event and see children enjoying
the healthier options. “It’s great to see these children eating the
foods we purchase and trying some new dishes too,” said Williams.
When looking around the crowded cafeteria, there were examples
of change in every dish. Children sampled things like edamame salads,
spicy chicken breasts, sweet and sour chicken, and chick pea
salads. Many of the foods featured at the event were purchased
by USDA, including chicken fajita meat used to make chicken tostadas
and the beans and raisins that starred in a sweet rice dish.
From the smiles and positive reactions from the taste testers, it’s
obvious that the dishes were a hit and that the palettes of schoolaged
children have evolved over the years.
FNS’ Program Support Branch Chief Laura Walter observed that
“schoolchildren are becoming sophisticated eaters.” Walter also
mentioned that FNS has “adjusted the foods in the program to meet
the changing demands of students.”
Another element of change in school meals programs is the increased
student involvement in menu planning. “The recipes for
the foods featured at the Patriot High School food tasting were
developed by employees,” said Serena Suthers, Prince William
County Food Service Director. “But during the event, students
and their parents were able to provide feedback about the items.”
This enables children to participate in the menu selection process
and develop an appreciation for finding creative ways to make the
menus healthier. Students also now participate in programs like
Recipes for Healthy Kids to team up with chefs and others in the
community to develop recipes for items on their school’s menu.
USDA is excited about the improvements to the National School
Lunch Program. Events like the food tasting at Patriot High School
are an important step in getting communities excited about the
healthier options as well.
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