Insights on the School Lunch Environment Podcast Highlights

The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and DietPromotion-iconetics Editor-in-Chief Linda Snetselaar, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND interviewed Dr. Marlene B. Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, in a podcast Insights on the School Lunch Environment. The two discussed some challenges in the school lunch environment, how it has changed over time, strategies to make school lunches healthier, and future policy changes that could have a positive impact on school lunches.

Highlights from Dr. Schwartz’s interview

  • The challenge to provide healthy food at a low price remains difficult.
  • The requirement that each student take either a fruit or vegetable has led to plate waste concerns but Dr. Schwartz’s research and Harvard University research concluded otherwise.
  • It’s important to keep communication between students and foodservice open! Provide samples and survey students for feedback.

Listen to Insights on the School Lunch Environment podcast for more details about each of these highlights and to hear Dr. Schwartz’s forecast on future policy changes that could make a huge difference in making the school lunch environment healthier.

Local Solutions to Address the Challenges

In Massachusetts, the Harvard University 2014 study Impact of the new U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal standards on food selection, consumption, and waste by Juliana Cohen, et al. found that, “Although food waste levels were substantial both pre- and post-implementation, the new guidelines have positively affected school meal selection and consumption.” Juliana Cohen will be a keynote speaker at JSI’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit in May 2016.

Taste testing is a great way to introduce new foods to students leading to an increase in their consumption of new, healthier menu items and in turn help to lower plate waste. See JSI’s School Nutrition Program Marketing Resources for tips on how to conduct successful taste tests.

Creating an environment that nudges students toward healthier options, aka Smarter Lunchrooms, can also lead to reduced plate waste. Through a USDA Team Nutrition grant, JSI is offering schools in Massachusetts technical assistance and support to help use Smarter Lunchrooms strategies. Additionally, there are grants available to help fund Smarter Lunchrooms Movement interventions at your school.

To strengthen customer service and communication within your program and school, consider scheduling one or both of the JSI Workshops to Go: Focus on the Customer and Professional Communications. Don’t forget to check out JSI’s resources for credible information on all aspects of school nutrition.

A Day in the Life of a School Nutrition Director – Foxborough

Friday November 6th I had the pleasure of visiting Allison Johnson, the School Nutrition Director at Foxborough Public Schools to learn more about the school nutrition program within the Foxborough Public School District. During this visit Allison gave me a tour of the operations within both Taylor Elementary School and John J. Ahern Middle School.

Hydroponic tower gardens growing romaine lettuce (left), cucumbers (upper right tower), grape tomatoes (middle right tower), and green peppers (lower right tower).

Hydroponic tower gardens growing romaine lettuce (left), cucumbers (upper right tower), grape tomatoes (middle right tower), and green peppers (lower right tower).

The operation at Taylor Elementary School is unique featuring a hydroponic garden that produces vegetables that are harvested for the lunch program. Allison implemented the garden using grant money obtained from the School Garden Grant from the Whole Kids Foundation of Whole Food Market. Of the five public schools in the district, Taylor Elementary is the pilot school for the hydroponic garden. Allison reported that students became more excited about eating vegetables knowing that they were grown in their school and that the food grown from this project is also freeing up some money in the budget that can be allocated towards purchasing higher quality foods. She hopes to eventually implement the successful initiative in the other schools in the future.

image4All of the five public schools in Foxborough feature salad bars that were obtained through the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Whole Kids Foundation Grant. Salad bars are an outstanding way to display colorful fruit and vegetable options and they include tongs and sneeze guards to ensure safe handling. Upon implementing the salad bars Allison educated students on how to properly use the salad bar, demonstrating that students should turn away and sneeze or cough into their arm when necessary. Furthermore, to minimize waste students are encouraged to take only what they can eat from the salad bar and are allowed to return for additional helpings at no extra cost.

Each month the lunch menus for the district include a “Harvest of the Month” produce item that is included in some of the month’s recipes. November’s harvest is kale so the middle school was offering Kale Apple Salad as a side dish on Friday, encouraging students to try new things. Additionally the menus feature “Meatless Monday” once each month. On this day all meals are meatless which is a great way to cut costs and minimize the district’s carbon footprint.

Check out JSI’s Pinterest board, The JOHN STALKER INSTITUTE (JSI) Rocks to see more images from this visit!

JSI can help your school nutrition program become more sustainable. Check out our Go Green for Schools Resources and the JSI Resource Center for ideas!

Get Ready for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit

Yogurt and berriesIf you are looking for new ideas for recipes for your school meal program, consider incorporating Greek yogurt.  There are many delicious ways to incorporate yogurt into school meals. Greek yogurt can be used in dips, dressings, and soups, and as a substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise. This can help to lower the fat and calories in recipes, while increasing the protein and dairy content to help meet the school meal requirements. Consider using the JSI Recipe Tool for a quick and easy analysis of your recipe – the JSI Recipe Tool will show if the recipe is compliant with the state and federal snack standards, as well as provide meal component information.

Chef Tim Reardon

Chef Tim Reardon from Chobani® will demo Greek yogurt recipes for schools at the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit on May 21

Ideas for how to incorporate Greek yogurt into school meals can be found in these recipes from Chobani® Greek yogurt. Click on the following links to access the nutritional information of some of these recipes, which were analyzed with the JSI Recipe ToolChobani® parfait, strawberry banana smoothie, and hummus. Chef Tim Reardon from Chobani® will be one of the keynote speakers at the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs 2-day Summit on May 20 & 21, 2015.

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit will be held at Four Points by Sheraton Norwood. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition, this conference is aimed towards school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers, and promotes healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit brochure will be mailed in the beginning of March. Stay tuned to The John Stalker Institute for more updates about the conference!