This post was sponsored by The School Nutrition Association. All opinions are my own.
Do you remember your school lunches as a child?
I didn’t get them often, so it was kind of a big deal when I got to stand in the lunch line and eat with the cool lunch kids. I got chocolate milk, I remember that. And I remember all of us sitting around the table, making jokes about the food. I distinctly remember one kid loudly shouting, “Oven-Fried Chicken?? More like Over-Fried Chicken!!”
I tell you what – that joke kills in the third grade.
Even though my own children eat school lunches, I hadn’t given much thought to what went into them. I’d glance at the menu each month, load their lunch accounts, and admonish them not to eat too much pizza…and that was it. So when I was invited earlier this month to the School Lunch Nutrition Association’s annual conference, I was completely shocked by the scope of the conference. I had no idea the work that goes into crafting kids’ school lunches.
The nutritionists, dieticians, directors of food services, and other attendees put a whole lot of effort into making sure our children are well-nourished and ready for a day of learning.
#sponsored I’m touring the exhibit floor at the School Nutrition Association 🍎conference with Naomi and Catherine, dietitians with the Oceanside school district.🎉 I had no idea. These ladies are part nutritionist, part accountant, part educator, and part child psychologist. 😳 i know the work I do to make a healthy meal my kids will actually eat that all 4 of them will like. ❤ This is that…multiplied by several thousand, five days a week. #anc18 #schoollunch #schoolnutrition @schoolnutritionassoc
Naomi Shadwell, Nutrition Services Director for Oceanside Unified School District, spent part of the day touring me around the exhibit floor. She mentioned off-hand that high school students respond well to more adventurous dishes like broccoli beef, while younger elementary schoolers don’t like their foods touching each other and would refuse to eat it. And then the scope of what goes into planning breakfasts and lunches for kids hit me. Meals must be healthy. They must be things kids will actually eat. They must be affordable. And so many more things I’m sure I’m not even aware of.
I was also impressed by the other social causes that are important to most of the people I spoke with. I spent part of the day chatting with Jeremy West, Director of Operations of Food and Nutrition Services for Jefferson County Schools – one of the largest districts in Colorado. He spoke passionately about making sure the children who need it get a healthy, protein-packed breakfast, and with making sure children are fed through the summer months as well. He also gave his team instructions to explore eco-friendly packaging for school meals as well.
As I’ve mentioned – I had no idea that any of this was going on. This is absolutely my fault. Everyone I spoke with at the conference was eager to tell me about the work they’re doing in schools. They want to educate students on how to eat healthy. They visit classrooms and hold testing sessions to try out new foods and teach kids about loading their plates with good foods. They come to PTA meetings (and sometimes even cater them!).
So how can we be proactive on our end and find out about the meals in our school districts? There are a few things we can do to be involved.
1.) Follow your district’s food services program on social media
I can’t promise that every district is on social media…but every person I spoke with at the conference made sure their district was. They made it a point to keep their facebook, twitter, and instagram accounts updated with their latest developments. Check with your district and see if they have social media accounts…and if they don’t, suggest they start one!
2.) Look them up online
I had no idea our district had this really cool menu app. It shows the meals kids are allowed to select each day, along with nutrition info. You can even enter any food allergies or other restrictions, and the app will gray out any meals that aren’t compliant. All the information on the app has been on our school district’s website for a while now, but I had never checked it out.
3.) Invite them to your school
Every director I spoke with was eager to talk about their program and their goals. Invite your director, or someone involved in your district’s school lunch program, to a PTA meeting or Back-to-School night. Ask questions. See if they can walk you through using any online tools they have. Talk to them about how you can collaborate and keep your school and community informed.
4.) Follow Tray Talk online and on social media
TrayTalk.org is run by the School Nutrition Association, and works to help parents understand the healthy trends in school cafeterias, the statistics on children who are served by school meal programs, and the details on national nutrition standards. I’ve been following them on facebook for a while, and they continually showcase schools that are trying new things and working to feed kids healthy meals. You can follow them here on facebook and online at TrayTalk.org.
What do you do to make sure your child gets a healthy school lunch?