New federal regulations for school lunches go into effect this month. According to the revised standards, school meals must have only so many calories and only so much sodium, include bigger portions of fruits and vegetables and only use milk that is 1 percent or nonfat. Over time, whole grains are to be phased in.
More fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu means that more meals must be cooked from scratch, as well as that more fresh local fruits and vegetables (not processed ones) must be used. 95 percent of the lunch menu and about half of the breakfast one are prepared from scratch now in Denver public schools since cooking from scratch was introduced in 2010, says the New York Times:
These days, many school meals start with raw ingredients and take longer to prepare. School staples like chicken nuggets are typically baked, not tossed in the fryer, and hot dogs are more likely to be made of turkey. And even those longtime favorites are served in the cafeteria less frequently.
“Ten or 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a salad bar, a fresh fruit and veggie bar, homemade pasta salads,” said Theresa Hafner, executive director of the food services department for Denver Public Schools. “You probably wouldn’t have seen homemade biscuits, or homemade hamburger buns, made with a white whole-wheat flour.”
As cooking meals from scratch is more labor-intensive, school districts have had to hire more staff — more than 100 in Denver. Plus, costs have increased as fresh produce is more expensive than processed items. In full awareness of the ways many kids eat (vs. the way we might them too), Adam Simmons, child nutrition director for the public school system in Fayetteville, Arkansas, worries about more food ending up in the trash, as portions of fruits and vegetables are discarded.
The Fayetteville district has switched to 70 percent cooking from scratch. Simmons does see the new regulations as positive, while making the point that just “Putting things on a plate doesn’t make it a nutritious meal.” Students still have to eat it.
I felt a bit astounded just to hear that public schools are cooking so much of school meals from scratch. It wasn’t that way at the Bay Area elementary and junior high schools I attended in the 1970s. Back then, the lunches in the cafeteria reminded me like nothing so much as the TV dinners in the freezer cases. I was lucky as my mother preferred to make our lunches, though I can see not every family might have time to do so or would turn to packaged, processed foods — Go-Gurt, Lunchables and such — in the name of convenience. All the better, then, if school districts can offer nutritious, tasty and appealing meals made from scratch.
Fox News lists some examples of what may be on school menus come this fall: A southwest veggie wrap a “Shrek Smoothie” including spinach, low-fat milk, vanilla yogurt, pineapple and other fruits; a Tomato Cucumber Salad; a vegetable and pasta salad; meatloaf.
Tomato and cucumber salad sounds good to me but I’m not so sure about kids eating it, or pasta salad; will the meatloaf seem just the latest recreation of “mystery meat”? Will kids eat these meals?
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