This post is brought to you by the School Nutrition Association.
Last month I visited the School Nutrition Association’s Annual Conference, and I took in so much information that my head is spinning. There is so much I didn’t know about the way school lunches are planned and regulated. I thought I would share with you some of the things that I learned because, as a parent, I think it is important to understand what happens behind the scenes in your school cafeteria.
- The products they serve at school are better for them than the ones you buy at home. – This one blew my mind! The products that are sold in schools like Uncrustables or Pop-Tarts are higher in whole grains and lack icky things like High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sometimes children complain that the food at home tastes different from the food at school, and this is why. I was shocked that brands do this, and lots of parents don’t even realize it. I wish they just made better products for everyone! I would love to buy wheat Uncrustables for my kids, but I can’t unless they are getting it from school.
- Due to droughts, schools use throw-away trays and packaging. – I’ve always been perplexed by the fact that schools aren’t washing trays anymore. It is a more green option, but something had to give when it comes to areas that suffer from droughts. Living in the south, I understand this.
- Eco-friendly trays – Due to the lack of reusable trays, schools are forced to use products that they throw away. More and more schools are pushing for containers that are compostable or biodegrade fast, so they aren’t sitting in landfills forever. There are also programs that turn milk cartons into school art projects! Some of our local schools in Georgia won a national contest.
- To cut back on sodium, they use salt-less seasonings. – The Georgia Department of Education partnered with chefs and menu planners to create new flavors and a positive buzz for school nutrition programs. I learned from LJ Klink, a chef and winner of the Extreme Chef that he consults with a local school system to make delicious new recipes for the kids and even has meatless days (that help with the budget) that the kids are loving. Some of these recipes include tacos made from lentils!
- Farm to school – More schools are creating school gardens and buying locally sourced produce. You can read more about that here.
- Technology – Schools are utilizing new technology and apps that let parents and students look at the menu and even purchase their food ahead of time. One of these programs is Nutrislice. It gives schools to option to make the menu customizable, which is great for students with food allergies. You can filter out the options that the child cannot have. It is a great system that I hope more school districts start to utilize.
- Food allergies are a top priority. – Schools have a trusted system between the school nurses, teachers, parents, and cafeteria staff to make sure children are not purchasing items that can be harmful to them.
- Many school nutrition directors are registered dieticians and nutritionists. – I met Cindy Culver, the Director of School Nutrition for Marietta City Schools. She has a Masters in Nutrition and is a registered dietician. She introduced me to lots of other Georgia professionals, and most of them also had high degrees in nutrition. It makes me happy to know that I can trust their menu planning for our kids.
- School Nutrition Expo – The School Nutrition Association hosts an annual conference with speaker sessions and brands that help make school lunch planning even better. At the expo, I got to test out food, see new cafeteria equipment, and view food demonstrations. This expo brings the brands and the school nutrition directors, cafeteria staff, and more together so that they can bring the best meals to our kids.
- Terminology – There are some new terms I learned on the expo floor that I wanted to share with you. Scratch District – Making recipes from scratch. No processed items came in a box. Clean label means limited ingredients and no added fillers, colors, and sometimes preservatives.
I hope you learned something new about all the hard work that goes into creating food menus for our children at school. Visit Tray Talk, the School Nutrition Accossiations blog, to read more.