Competition Spurs Healthy School Lunches

A Top Student Chef Competition in Baltimore has been the perfect way for students to make their own addition to the school lunch menu. They can add items healthier than the normal pizza and burgers served up on the daily grill. A recent item added to the Centennial High School’s menu is the Chicken Wrap, served up with corn salsa on a whole wheat tortilla. It incorporates the right portions of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables with more flavor and nutrients than the usual tacos on Tuesdays.

The competition has been going on for a few months now, with a Buffalo Chicken Wrap and Chicken Quesadilla already added to the menu. The menu items must be easy enough for the servers to make during the quick lunches at high school, as well as go through a nutritional analysis.

I remember going through the cafeteria line, dreading what would be on the menu that day. Would it be cardboard pizza, half soy-half beef burgers, or some lame macaroni and glue (what we used to call it)? I would end up eating the fruit cup and side of veggies, drinking my milk or juice and throwing the main course away. I am sure the high school students are relieved to see something on the menu that not only looks good, but tastes good and is healthy for them too. Instead of worrying about packing a lunch and trading crackers for cookies, the students can be relieved to see a fresh sandwich or wrap served up with some fresh fruit and salsa on the side.

Across the country, another change in school lunches can be seen in California. LA Unified School District has released news that they are cutting strawberry and chocolate milk off the menu. This leads to some hope that school lunches will soon be more nutrient dense and flavorful for the students. Many big guys, like the US Departement of Agriculture, reimburse schools for using flavored milks. Over 60% of milks consumed at schools are flavored. This worries the dairy industry that they won’t be making as much money if flavored milks are taken out. Kids may not choose to drink milk at all if their usual choice is not on the menu. Will they boycott milk altogether or get used to the idea that they shouldn’t be drinking that much sugar with their meal? Schools need to educate the students about why they are taking the milk off the menu, and how it will benefit them in the immediate and long term future.

Childhood obesity is a huge problem right now in the United States. Revamping the school lunch menus and removing the junk is necessary to help the children build a healthier, disease free, future. Jamie Oliver sparked the idea of removing the flavored milks, and has made an impact on the superintendent John Deasey. The next steps to take are to remove the chicken nuggets and other processed foods and use fresh, natural replacements. The problem is that schools are only funded about 77 cents per meal, per child. This will not be able to cover fresh produce, let alone boiled or baked chicken as the protein. The real issue comes down to politics,which hopefully will be changed in the near future. If Michelle Obama can supposedly release a new food pyramid (plate) then I am sure she can make a difference in the amount schools are funded per meal. The Choose My Plate program debuted a few weeks ago, and will hopefully be featured in classroom presentations about nutrition.
Children are the future. One in three children in the LA Unified School District are overweight or obese. Removing sugary and processed foods from the menus, and replacing the amount of sugar served with the same amount of fiber will make a tiny dent in the obesity epidemic. It is just a start to the entire process of remaking the school lunch menus to create a healthier next generation.

Competitions like the one in Baltimore should be a country wide program to ensure that students are eating what they choose, and that their choice is flavored and healthy. But again, it comes down to money. Someone in power needs to make the decision to allot more dollars to the meals, and future, of the children in this country.

Photo credit:flickr.com/photos/wlscience/4569761556/

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