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Helping kids get a healthy school lunch

When Patrick started first grade, the dilemma of “Will Patrick buy or pack his school lunch?” surfaced.   I remember looking at the school’s menu when he was in PreK and cringing…high sodium, high fat and processed foods. Would all of our work for the past several years giving him sound nutrition fall to pieces in first grade?!

At the end of Patrick’s PreK year, the cafeteria manager position opened! Was this my calling?  Well, my passion is not food service so I let that question go.  However, St. Christopher grade school in Vandalia has been blessed that it was my sister-in-law’s calling.  Her story can inspire all of us to get creative in other school districts.

Two years ago, Karie Meyers came to the school and changed up the menu; discarded most processed foods, and encouraged the staff to cook more whole foods.  She did all this while working with the challenge to keep costs down and use as many of the low-cost and free commodities she can while providing the kids with nutritious lunches.

You can hear from the school children how they enjoy the lunches now and parents say that their children request new foods at home.  I hear that Karie also watches out for who is eating their meal and who does not (Karie’s vigilance = let’s not waste our money + no kid should go hungry).

Changes made at St Christopher grade school:

  • It is still a challenge to provide fresh fruits and vegetables because the school does not qualify for free produce. Most of the commodities Karie uses are frozen vegetables and canned fruits.   She chooses frozen instead of canned vegetables for their better flavor and the zero sodium.
  • Sometimes she finds it cheaper to purchase fresh meats from neighboring grocery stores.
  • Home made desserts, utilizing fruits.
  • She still provides some of the typical “staples”, like pizza, “breakfast for lunch” meal, and chicken nuggets – but now, less often.
  • School milk is provided with meals: 1% white milk and fat free chocolate is offered.
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is offered if the child does not wish to eat the entrée provided for that day.
  • She established portion sizes for the grade levels
  • Seconds??  These are rare for she obtains her lunch numbers in the morning and will make a small amount extra.

St. Christopher, along with other schools, must re-look at their menus.  Michelle Obama campaigned over the past couple of years with her program: Let’s Move! With that, her influence is creating change with The National School Lunch Program:  Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The legislation authorizes funding and sets policy for USDA’s core child nutrition programs:  the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, an opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.”

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) published, ‘Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs’  on January 26, 2012.” which is updating the school meals with nutrition standards reflecting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans(DGAs)  and the My Plate recommendations.

The updated nutrient requirements for school lunches start this fall and take effect over the next three years.  They include:

  • Fruits and vegetables to be offered every day of the week
  • Increasing whole grain-rich foods
  • Providing only fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium in the meals
  • Portion sizes appropriate for age of child (grade)

I know Patrick’s intakes are being taken care of at St. Christopher grade school.  For those days Patrick chooses to pack…stay tune for what we aim for in our house.

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