Schools Climb the Food Pyramid for Tasty, Nutritious Lunches

Thursday, October 01, 2015

It’s every parent’s battle: a well-balanced meal that’s nutritious AND tastes good. Multiply that by a few hundred kids and then it becomes a real challenge. But for 30+ years, our schools have been leading the charge in building and delivering that perfect menu.

How about a little history lesson on school lunches? (We are talking school, after all). Beginning in the 19th century, most kids walked home to have their main midday meal with their family and the few who traveled long distance to attend school brought a home-packed lunch.

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act, which essentially shaped school lunches moving forward. The assisted meal program provided nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children in public and nonprofit private schools and child care institutions.

With each passing decade, food selections slowly evolved. In the early 1990s, salad bars, made-to-order deli counters and ethnic specialties began popping up in school cafeterias across the country.

The common theme throughout has always been finding a way to provide a healthy lunch, cost-effectively, in school cafeterias.

And what was considered nutritious and well balanced in 1990 obviously isn’t the same as today’s standards. In addition to federal nutritional recommendations, regional culinary preferences, local district economics and current health trends, it’s not surprising to see non-processed, fresh and local options.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Healthy food options are imperative, especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds. School meals may be the only nutrition they receive all day. And providing healthy meals to all kids is vital to their mental health and physical growth.

The National School Nutrition Association (SNA) spotlights this healthy food crusade with its National School Lunch Week (NSLW) campaign—this year’s theme titled “School Lunch Snapshot” runs from October 12-16. SNA members are being asked to take pictures of healthy school lunches across the country and share their photos on social media outlets with hashtag #NSLW!.

Not only does the proper school nutrition promote a healthy lifestyle for years to come, it also benefits the parents. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, parents can also make the transition a positive experience for their kids by joining them for lunch in the cafeteria, asking them what they had for lunch and letting them tag along on grocery store runs. These will all help encourage children to embrace healthier eating habits.

In addition to fighting the battle of childhood obesity, studies have shown that healthier school meals have resulted in increased vitamin and mineral consumption along with better attendance and grades.

For faculty, staff and administrators, finding the right nutrition solution is critical to optimizing their overall lunchroom operations. It’s important to pair school nutrition programs with the right state and federal compliance support, meal applications, menu planning, nutritional analysis, production records, ordering and even inventory management.

That’s a lot to manage.

Heartland School Solutions offers tools that assist schools and school districts in running their operations with ease. Most importantly, we will help you provide your children with the right nutrition while fostering healthy eating habits.

Heartland cares about the health and wellness of today’s youth. Contact a Heartland representative to learn more about our nutrition solutions.