This is not your father’s (or your mother’s) school lunch…

Yesterday morning, I was listening to the news, and the meteorologist was talking about a recent visit to a local school to talk & teach about all things weather related.  As Mr. Weather Dude bantered with the news anchors about the event, he commented on how amazing the school smelled because in the cafeteria, they were baking apple crisp for the school lunch menu.  This led to a conversation about school meals, past & present.  Finally, Mr. Weather Dude commented: “Kids today have it made!”.   Quickly, I tweeted to Mr. Weather Dude, thanking him for his inadvertent shout out to school meals.  He’s right!  When it comes to school meals, kids today do have it made!

I wonder though… how many people were listening… and how many people really got what he was talking about.

We’ve been brainstorming about this a lot lately.   School meals do not look… or taste… like they did in the past: School meals have changed DRAMATICALLY over the past 10, 20, 30, 40 years.  But, when parents consider whether to send a lunch with their child or whether their child will get school lunch, the parent’s frame of reference for school lunch is often what the parent experienced for school lunch when they were in school.  Or how they have seen school lunch portrayed on television or in the media.
If you were eating school meals back in the 60’s, school meals at your school might have looked a little like this:

school lunch in 1966
photo credit Bon Appetit Magazine

or in the 70’s/early 80’s, it may have looked a little more like this:

If parent’s idea of school lunch has been framed by the media – tv & movies… or even worse, viral pictures that they may have been posted on social media, their idea of school meals may look more like this:

These photos were widely distributed over social media as “examples” of how terrible school lunches had become over the years.  Whether these photos were true examples or not, we may never know.  But, here is my point:  School Meals shouldn’t be judges by past experience.  And here’s why:  School Meals have changed drastically over the past 5 or 10 years.  Initiatives such as Farm to School, Chefs Move to School and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 have made a huge impact on the freshness and quality of the meals.  So, when considering school meals, visit your school’s cafeteria!  Ask if you can eat a school meal with your child, or visit the school nutrition program’s website or Facebook page. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.  Here are some photos of school meals from our own district:

Quesadilla lunch in RSU #14
Panini & Vegetable Quinoa Soup
Chicken Pot Pie with Whole Grain Biscuits
These are just a few examples  from our district, but for more, head on over to our Facebook Page at Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program.   

Its not just us though!  Across the country, schools are stepping up to the plate, serving fresh, delicious, restaurant quality food that meets the USDA guidelines.  Here are a couple more examples from York Schools in southern Maine.  
Delicious School Meals in York, Maine

School Meals that Rock on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, is a great place to check out what is happening in school cafeterias across the country, and if you are a school nutrition professional, it is also a fantastic place to get inspired!  
There is one other thing about school meals that does not get talked about very often.   Frequently, the lunches that students bring from home (brown bag lunches) are nowhere near as nutritionally complete as a school lunch provided by the school cafeteria.   A study by Tufts University, and published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that only 11% of lunches from home included a vegetable, only 17% contained a dairy product, and while many student had water packed for their beverage, a significant number had a sugar sweetened beverage packed for the drink.  It is not uncommon for us to see a child in the cafeteria with a package of some sort of crackers and a drink as his or her entlunch.    

School lunches provide BOTH fruit & vegetable choices, as well as protein, whole grains and milk. They are power packed with nutritious foods and a great value every single day!

I urge you to check out your school’s school nutrition program.  Perhaps they have an online presence on social media, or a website you can visit.  Perhaps you can stop by for lunch with your child, though I recommend calling first so that the cafeteria is sure to have enough food.  No matter what you do… it’s time to give school meals a second look!  You’ll be happy that you did!    Check out this great video, made by the School Nutrition Association:

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