Want Your Child to Have a Healthy, Affordable, Homemade Lunch? Let Them Eat at School.

~ fed to you by Jeana Neu, MS, CHES – the EAT Up Expert

This week is NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH WEEK and there is much to celebrate! All across the nation, school nutrition departments are joining a movement to bring back cooking in their cafeterias. Parents are always invited to join their children for mealtimes, but during NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH WEEK, parents are strongly ENCOURAGED to set a date to have lunch with their child and discover all the good eats being made in their school. The more parents engage in eating healthy meals with their children, the more they teach their child about the benefits of better nutrition.

Jeremy Ranch Elementary School serves up local cherry tomatoes, spring salad mix, and carrots.

15 TO CLEAN And Adventure Bites

Now, more than ever, parents need to know about the nutritious and delicious changes happening in their own school district. Park City School District has launched the 15 to Clean and Adventure Bites program.

The 15 TO CLEAN initiative will remove 15 unnecessary additives over the next three years while introducing at least 18 new recipes for students to try each year. Recipes are created in partnership with PCSD child nutrition staff and renowned Park City restaurants such as Deer Valley, Squatters, Riverhorse, and Silver Star. The recipes range from entreés to salad dressings and ingredients will be sourced locally whenever possible using the Farm to School Program. Students will vet the choices through the taste test program Adventure Bites, with the assistance of EATS Park City every two weeks at each school. Through Adventure Bites, kids will help handpick options to be placed on the school menus by voting on each taste test. A key point: changes to school menus made with student input are having the most success. The kids want fresher, cleaner foods, not re-heated food from boxes with mystery ingredients.

The federal government is also continuing to change school nutrition regulations aimed at improving child nutrition for healthier meals.

Here are the facts about school food:

  • More fruits and vegetables: Schools must offer students fruits and vegetables with every lunch and increase the portion sizes.
  • Vegetable choices at lunch must include weekly offerings of: legumes, dark green and red or orange vegetables.
  • Every school breakfast must offer students a full cup of fruits or vegetables. Students are required to take at least one half-cup serving of fruits or vegetables with every school breakfast and lunch.
  • Whole grains: All grains offered with school meals must be whole grain-rich (51% whole grain).
  • Sodium limits: Schools must gradually reduce sodium levels in school meals over a ten year period.
  • Calorie limits: School meals must meet age-appropriate calorie minimums and maximums.
  • Limits on unhealthy fat: Meals cannot contain added trans-fat and no more than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat.
  • Low-fat and fat-free milk: Every school meal offers one cup of fat-free or 1% milk. Flavored milk must be fat-free.
  • Free water: Free drinking water must be available in the cafeteria during lunch and breakfast.

Cooking fresher, cleaner foods from scratch

With the new guidelines firmly in place, cafeterias are serving up healthier foods. But, a long history of heat and serve has to go. Moving away from frozen and processed foods, which tend to contain loads of sodium and calories, means schools are making more fresh foods with less processing and additives. Fresh herbs and spices improve the taste of the food when cooking with less salt.

Park City School District has their own definition of “scratch” cooking: “Our onsite Child Nutrition Team uses fresh, expertly-sourced ingredients with emphasis on single-ingredient, minimally-processed food to create nutritious recipes and meals for Park City students.”

Make a date to eat with your child

On Wednesday, October 19, Park City parents have a special invitation to join their child for lunch at school where all the schools will be serving up Deer Valley Lasagna, the first winning meal in the 15 to Clean/Adventure Bites program. But don’t stop there, set a regular date to eat at school with your child and continue to learn more about the improvements to the menu. And, the next time you are looking for a healthy homemade lunch for your child, simply look on the school menu and see what’s cooking!

Jeana Neu is a certified health education specialist and nutrition advocate. She is a board member of EATS Park City and member of the PCSD Child Nutrition Task Force. She works on managing projects that create access to healthier foods for children and their communities through nutrition education and advocacy. You can read more about Jeana on her website at www.eatupfood.com.