Last month I shared some exciting changes being made to school lunches. Today I’m going to expand on that and share how school nutrition professionals are working hard to create meals that meet the nutritional needs of teenagers. Whether your teen packs a lunch or eats school lunch, it’s important for you to know what our school districts are doing behind the scenes to improve the quality of school lunches. You may be surprised!
This summer I was invited to attend the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference (ANC) in San Antonio, Texas. I joined over 6,500 school nutrition professionals to learn more about what goes into a school lunch and the changes being made to improve the quality. I had the opportunity to attend a couple different training sessions to see first-hand as a parent what goes into creating a school lunch menu.
One of the sessions I attended was called, “How to Feed the Teenage Brain.” As a mom of a teenage boy, I was intrigued to learn more. While my son is not a picky eater, and eats healthy most of the time, I’ve always wondered if he is getting the proper nutrition to help fuel his growing body. What I learned is that schools are working hard to make sure that teens are getting a well-balanced, nutritious meal that they will enjoy.
I was surprised to learn that schools have a hard time getting kids to eat school lunch at the middle school and high school level. Kids tend to want to pack their own lunch or leave campus for lunch. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for many kids, this leads to poor nutrition. Throwing a bunch of prepackaged snacks into a bag and calling it lunch is not healthy and it’s not going to help fuel their bodies. For many kids, school lunch is the healthiest meal they will eat in a day.
Getting Teens Excited About School Lunches
School nutrition professionals know that teens are the hardest group to reach. In order to get teens excited about school lunch, school nutrition professionals have been working hard to make school lunch programs at the secondary level better. Here’s how:
Increased Nutrition: The Mayo Clinic Daily Guidelines state that teen girls need 1,800-2,400 calories a day, while teen boys need 2,000-3,200. School nutrition professionals use these guidelines to carefully plan each meal to make sure that it meets specific nutrition standards.
Breakfast Options: Schools have found that offering nutritious breakfast options has encouraged kids to eat breakfast every day. Not only is it helpful for students who have sports practices before school, it also helps ensure that kids are starting their day off on the right foot.
Healthy Meals from Scratch: Schools are ditching highly processed foods and making meals from scratch. They are also sourcing local ingredients when possible. Many schools are finding that kids actually prefer these “home cooked” meals over prepackaged meals.
Favorites Made Healthy: Schools know that kids are more likely to eat foods that they like and are familiar with, so they are taking kid favorites and giving them a healthy twist. For example, school pizza is prepared with whole grain crust, low-fat cheese and reduced-sodium sauce. They are also giving kids the freedom to customize their lunches by implementing taco bars, salad bars, etc.
Chef-Inspired Recipes: Schools are mixing up the menu with restaurant-inspired recipes. Many schools have trained chefs on staff or partner with local chefs to develop new menu items and to help get kids excited about trying healthier menu choices.
Social Media Awareness: Teens live on social media, so schools have started to post school menu options on their social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. When students see what is being offered each day, they are more likely to eat at school.
Student Involvement: Many high schools have found that students are more likely to eat school lunch if they try free samples or participate in student-hosted taste tests. Taste tests encourages kids to try healthier fare and allows schools to gather feedback on new recipes and identify student favorites. Schools are also offering cooking classes, school gardens and nutrition education programs to help students become open to the healthy choices in the cafeteria.
Over the last few years, I have noticed many of these changes going into effect at my son’s school. The changes have been well-received by students and parents. My son loves eating school lunch every day — he says it’s healthy and tastes great. He also says he always gets plenty to eat. This is important to me, especially since he is growing so quickly and needs all the nutrition he can get!
Still unsure about school lunches? You might just need to try a meal for yourself. Take a look at the school lunch menu for the week and then pick a day to join your child for lunch. Another idea is to go behind the scenes and take a tour of your school district’s nutrition services facility to see what goes into a school lunch menu.
Does your teen eat school lunch?
I partnered with the School Nutrition Association to bring you this post. All opinions are my own.