Promoting student health is an important part of school food service. Menus are planned by a Registered Dietitian (RD) and analyzed using Nutri-Kids analysis software. The menus can be used as a teaching tool to show what a balanced meal or diet looks like.
Menus are planned following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. When analyzed for the week, all menus contain less than 30% of total calories from fat, and less than 10% of total calories from artery-clogging saturated fats. Each lunch meets at least one third of a students’ age-appropriate energy and protein needs, plus calcium, iron, and vitamin A and C needs.
Notice that there are different types of meat or meat alternates available, a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetable options, and also the occasional treat. Analyzing by the week allows the opportunity to show how different foods can be combined to balance higher fat meals with lower fat options to create an overall healthy diet.
Portion size is key. The portions served in school meal programs don’t resemble the giant-sized portions found in our favorite restaurants. Rather, portions used in school meal programs model those recommended for healthy Americans by the Food Guide Pyramid. Meats and meat alternates (cheeses, nuts, and yogurt) are served in a size sufficient to provide 2 oz of protein. Often this equates to a 2-3 oz serving of meat…far less than the typical restaurant offers. Fruits, vegetables, and starches like rice and pastas are portioned at ½ to ¾ cup. Again, this is less than our eyes have grown accustomed to when eating out.
Sticking with healthy portion sizes rather than overgrown ones allows the widest variety of foods to be offered while keeping nutrients within guidelines and childhood obesity in check. Portion size is another area where school meals can serve as a valuable teaching tool to show kids and adults alike what a healthy portion size looks like.
Food Service also uses low-fat or light items when the quality is good to further reduce the fat in the menus. Examples include reduced fat cheeses on all types of pizza, reduced fat or fat-free mayonnaise, offering light or fat-free dressings, light corn dogs, turkey hot dogs, and offering skim and low-fat milk selections. We bake rather than fry most items, and take it easy on the butter and added sugars. We like to think of this approach as ‘stealth health.’ Making kid-favorites healthy for them and oh-so-appealing to eat is very important to the entire staff.