Today’s school meals — nearly 32 million served each day — are healthier than ever, now that federal guidelines require school meals pass muster with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
According to a press release, the USDA implemented the most drastic changes in more than 15 years to help better provide healthier foods for school children. The meals are featuring more fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources.
Children in American schools will eat approximately 4,000 school meals from kindergarten through high school graduation — one-third of a student’s expected calorie consumption throughout these years.
Dietician and school nutrition expert Dayle Hayes is visiting hundreds of schools to showcase healthy meals from all over the country through her website www.schoolmealsthatrock.com .
Hayes encourages parents to get involved and efforts on the project through a variety of tips. She also suggests parents who make lunches for their children abide by the same standards the school does.
— GO GREEK: There is a USDA pilot program in four states (New York, Idaho, Tennessee and Arizona) that features authentic, all-natural Greek yogurt in school meals in a variety of ways. In addition to being offered in traditional yogurt cups, it is also used in recipes for sauces, dips and baked goods. Greek yogurt provides extra protein and calcium in meals, while also lowering the fat and sodium content. This option is also a huge plus for vegetarians. Parents can check out www.gogreekinschool.com to learn more about the program sponsored by Chobani.
— VEG OUT: Vegetables coming into schools are now offered in greater quantity, variety and color. Hayes said the additions add visual appeal and are a great way to get kids interested as well as earn them extra nutrients and introduce them to more vegetable options, like orange sweet potatoes (potassium boost) and red peppers (Vitamin C-loaded).
— GRAIN OF TRUTH: At least half of the grains in school meals will come from whole grain sources, according to Hayes. Whole grains can bread baked chicken (notice baked, not fried), and more school meals are including quinoa, couscous and whole grain bread.
— SCHOOL YOURSELF ON WHAT’S NEW: Is it time to go back to school? Hayes wants parents to try a school meal themselves, showing the importance to their children about what to eat and what the options are. Parents should also be asking their children what they eat at school each day, as well as provide some of the healthier options offered in school at home. Most schools have menus available for parents, now even offering updates on smartphones in addition to flyers, posters and online. This way, kids will be more accustomed to what’s available and ultimately lead to healthier eating habits for life and, according to Hayes, better classroom performance.