Thursday’s Dish: Healthier Cafeteria Food

I was happy to hear that changes are afoot in my daughter’s school cafeteria. Starting this week, Pflugerville ISD is converting all its schools to a “Gold Menu” that focuses on healthier foods. The changes are summarized on the PISD page at www.schooldish.com:

  • A different vegetable is offered every day of the week, with a dark green or orange vegetable being offered 3 or more days per week
  • A different fresh fruit every day in the week
  • Legumes (beans) are offered at least one time per week
  • At least one whole grain food offered each day
  • Only low-fat and skim milk offered

These menus meet Team Nutrition’s Healthier US School Challenge Gold Standard and are in-line with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Your child will see more variety on their lines with only the healthiest choices ranging from whole grain pasta dishes to pita sandwiches and unique daily salad offerings.
AdvertisementI’m all for these changes. I make my child’s lunch three times a week and let her eat at school two times a week. On those two days, I ask her about her meal choices and work to fill in the nutritional gaps at snacktime and dinner, but I’m hopeful that with this new menu, there won’t be so many gaps to fill.

There has been a nationwide movement to improve the nutritional vacuum that has characterized school lunches in the past, most memorably by the Regan-era “ketchup is a vegetable” debacle. Chef Alice Waters, who has been at the forefront of the local, sustainable, organic food movement, began the Chez Panisse Foundation, which “envisions a school curriculum and school lunch program where growing, cooking, and sharing food at the table gives students the knowledge and values to build a humane and sustainable future.” Chef Jamie Oliver tackled the British school system’s menus, then came to the U.S. to bring attention to the problems in the American school system’s menus in the TV show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. The six-part series is over, but Oliver has a lot of information online about changing school food. Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady, has developed a toolkit for schools called The Lunch Box to help them improve their food. The movement is growing, and schools are paying attention.

I went to my daughter’s school today to see how the changes there are being implemented. We chose Spaghetti & Meat Sauce, which turned out to be rotini with meatballs. I was impressed with good stuff in the sauce: discernible onion, a dark, leafy green, mushrooms and chunks of stewed tomatoes rather than a homogeneous sauce. There was a little mozzarella mixed in, and each of us got only one meatball, much to my daughter’s disappointment. For sides, I chose a salad and a breadstick (not whole-grain, but pretty good sourdough!), and my daughter chose fresh cucumber coins, peaches in juice and a breadstick. The cucumber was crisp and fresh, the peaches were … canned peaches, but she had also been offered half of a fresh banana. Overall, I was very happy with how much she liked her food.

I went to give my compliments to the cafeteria staff, and one member told me that they’ve been given lots of positive reviews from teachers, parents and kids alike. It’s great that the food is healthier, and that the kids are liking it more! It may not be Alice Waters’ ideal of growing the school food in a garden out back, but it’s a good start. I’ll be watching for future developments. I’m interested to hear if your child’s school has made or is thinking of making similar changes?

Written by: Shannon Oelrich

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