DENVER – There will be more whole grains on school lunch menus this year, along with a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options. The challenge is getting children to eat them.
“We don’t want healthy trash cans. We want kids who are eating this stuff,” said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition at Orange County Public Schools in Florida.
At a School Nutrition Association conference in Denver this summer, food workers heard tips about how to get children to make healthy food choices in the cafeteria.
The problem is a serious one for the nation’s lunch-line managers, who are implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years.
New Department of Agriculture guidelines taking effect this fall set calorie and sodium limits for school meals. Schools must offer dark green, orange or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, and students are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. Flavored milk must be nonfat, and there’s a ban on artificial, artery-clogging trans fats.
At the conference, Halls demonstrated some healthy recipes for curious cafeteria managers, joining White House chef Sam Kass to prepare a veggie wrap using a whole-wheat tortilla.
Halls’ main mission, though, was not pushing new recipes but teaching cafeteria managers marketing strategies used to great success by private-sector restaurants and food producers.
The first step, cafeteria workers were told, is to stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from academics, but a crucial part of a child’s school day.
“Your job is not to serve kids food. Your job is motivate kids to be adventurous and healthy eaters,” said Barb Mechura, head of nutrition services at schools in Hopkins, Minn.
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School Nutrition Association: http://www.schoolnutrition.org
USDA sample school lunch menu: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Governance/Legislation/cnr_chart.pdf