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Ask a School Meals Expert: How are Schools Helping Students Adjust to the New School Meals?

We’re continuing to answer questions we’ve received from folks about the improvements to school meals that started this school year. One concern we’ve heard is that students who may not be accustomed to eating particular foods may throw them away. We know it is important that students get the calories and nutrition they need to stay alert and energized through the day and schools are doing a number of things to make sure this happens.

First, it’s important to know that while some of the new school meals are different, most schools are continuing to serve old favorites—with a few healthy updates. For example, instead of fried chicken nuggets, now kids are getting baked ones and instead of fully-loaded pizza slices, schools are now offering slices with lower-fat cheese and more veggie toppings.

Schools can also allow kids a certain amount of flexibility to choose only the foods they intend to eat. We refer to this as “offer vs. serve” (OVS).  OVS allows students to decline one or two of the food items offered in a school lunch. Schools can decide how to implement OVS including which grades and how many items can be declined.

Still, we don’t want students to make a habit of skipping unfamiliar fruits and veggies and other new healthy items. That’s why USDA is encouraging schools to get students involved in guiding and shaping the food selections offered by their school districts. Students across the country are participating in taste testing sessions, providing feedback on meals to food service staff, and trying the new foods and recipes in the cafeteria every day.

We know that many parents are already making changes at home to help the whole family eat healthier. We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible. In many schools, parents are working through their Parent-Teacher Associations to take a lead role in helping kids adjust.

Adapting to the changes may be challenging at first, as students are introduced to new flavors and foods in the cafeteria. But as you can see there are many ways to make the transition easier.

Check back here frequently as we continue to answer questions about the new and improved school meals. Also, please don’t forget to check out the web site we created to help folks understand the meal changes and how they make the school day healthier.

30 Responses to “Ask a School Meals Expert: How are Schools Helping Students Adjust to the New School Meals?”

  1. Greg Pfister says:

    Because you’ve made mistake after mistake on what food “guidelines” to offer children time and time again over the years, what makes you EVER THINK your knowledge of feeding children is worth the paper (or in this case, the screen) it is printed on. I can show you years of YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS that have changed without real thought or basic common sense. Current point in fact, you failed to realize that some children expend many more calories than the “average norm” and have made no allowances for it as common sense dictates. For this reason, as well as many others, I do not send my children to any school following your requirements, nor would I every do so in my own home. It is better that my tax dollars do not fund an agency such as yours as your agency have not demonstrated good stewardship.

    cc: Honorable Randy Forbes
    cc: Honorable Mark Warner
    cc: Honorable Jim Webb

  2. Rodger says:

    The government’s role is not to promote “healthy” eating at the tax payer’s expense.

  3. Edward says:

    Where on earth do you think it’s your responsibility to tell, or even suggest what parents should feed their kids. While you at it, explain to all us bitter clingers where in the Constitution you have the authority to have anything to do with school lunch programs.

  4. Joe says:

    It is NOT the kind of food primarily. It IS the amount of food being served. These kids are growing by leaps and bounds and they are NOT getting the calories they need at lunch. The best thing you could do for the CHILDREN is to get out of the way and stop telling schools and people what they should be eating. it is NONE of your business!!!!!

  5. C. Menard says:

    You people, are a joke! You don’t know your behinds from a hole in the ground. Kid’s are eating more junk food than ever, because they are HUNGRY when they get home from school.
    Our once great country has become a Nanny State…

  6. Lawnmowerman1 says:

    Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution

    1. Please list in these powers where you find the right to tell citizens of America,what they should serve to their family for food or food content ?

    2. I think you people need to read some documentation of what our founders views were as follows:

    They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase, not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless.

    It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.

    Jefferson’s Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank : 1791

  7. Walter Dixon says:

    Janey Thorton take your meal suggistions and put them you know where. Eat that!

  8. Steve Hubbard says:

    You people are frightening. Absolutely frightening.

  9. Vicki says:

    I don’t believe that obesity among the younger generation is just a problem caused by eating habits at home or in the schools. Looking at the bigger picture it’s a problem first caused by the food industries in our society. I am an anthropologist and do very well at analyzing the whole situation. This is societies mistake, now they want to fix it? I’ve seen children growing bigger and taller, not your average growth, so I have to question it. If the food sold today was anything like it was when my parents, grandparents or I were growing up, there wouldn’t be a problem. Food is tampered with so much that it’s hard to recognize to the days gone by. They give animals steroid. People eat the meat and drink the milk, and we all know that steroids do. You have these food companies who have doubled the sugars in their foods, and those artificial sweeteners do even more damage. They add so many additives and poisons to foods and beverages, that eating the food becomes more unhealthy then breathing the air. Now we know why there are so many different drugs you can by for upset stomachs and allergies. Food is no longer immune to any of us. When did cows ever eat corn? Seriously. Food is making people sick and obese. They want parents to feed their kids healthy? Tell that to a family with five kids, whose yearly income is say 35 thousand dollars. Those parents ate going to buy food that is going to feed their family for the week. They are the ones who can afford hotdogs and speghetti, not lean meats and fresh fruits and vegtables, maybe can goods. If they want to change the obesity problem, well the first place to start is with these food companies. The way we package and process our food. Maybe we should go back to the older days, make your own breads, go to the market each day and buy fresh meat, fruits and vegetables.maybe they just need to stop tampering with the food. And if I had anything to do with it, Monsanto and the rest of those out their who tamper with food would be out of business.

  10. Peggy Phillips says:

    We have always been a family that cared about nutition. What I don’t like is how condescending you are towards people. You treat them like they are stupid by forcing this on them. And now you are saving me money because my kids refuse to eat it. One thing you don’t understand is that if the economy was better people could feed their kids better. In addition it is the hectic lifestyle of single-parent homes and both parents working that may be the cause of obesity. Not to mention the fact that the price of food is skyrocketing. Don’t use food for fuel and maybe food would be cheaper for all including whole grains.

  11. Mike says:

    Why dont you guys go by the same standards you are forcing on our schools? Now you want to put cameras on trash cans to see how much waste there is? Now the kids are throwing away tons of produce and going hungry.. stupid policy

  12. Moon Walker says:

    First and foremost, it is not your job to determine what students eat or not. You usurped that authority and CLAIM it as your own but it is not yours. Parents can choose to feed whatever they want their lids to have without your permission OR approval.
    Secondly, install your guidelines on your own employees up to and including FORCING them to “choose” you healthy offerings. Making someone choose something is not making a choice, you understand….No I do not think you do.
    Otherwise, shut up. Hypocrisy reeks.

  13. R. A. Harrison says:

    Yet while USDA/Thornton encourage parents to serve healthy choices at home, the USDA cafeteria offers high-cal selections for its adult employees (who need less calories than kids!) like cheese steaks, BLTs with cheddar cheese and french toast. Do as I say, not as I do, Ms. Thornton?

  14. Michael Mason says:

    Please explain why the USDA is starving many children, especially those experiencing a “growth spurt” and those who participate in athletics who, thereby, require additional calories. My children say that even with their lunch they are hungry all day. You are limiting the amount of protein these children can consume to a level that does not nearly meet the requirements of a growing body. Also, you are limiting the fat intake of these children to the point that they do not experience satiation. How challenging do you think it is for a child to concentrate on school work when they are hungry? It isn’t nutrition until it’s consumed. I’ve been to the cafeteria at our school. This is a school serving 2nd grade through high school. They have 2,200 students. A staggering amount of food is going into the garbage and the kids are left hungry. Dictating how these kids should eat isn’t working. I grew up in the 70′s when obesity wasn’t a problem. We were able to eat foods back then that would leave today’s nutrition radicals speechless. Yet, we weren’t obese and grew up to be productive adults. The problem isn’t with calories in, it’s with calories burned. You are trying to solve a problem caused by a sedentary lifestyle by restricting calories. The result is that you are starving your students; our children. Even though most people realize the fallacy of this approach, you continue to justify your means to the desired end. Maybe things have changed since I recieved my PhD in biochemistry, focused on human nutrition and food science, but I don’t think it has. You are starving the majority because a minority cannot manage their weight appropriately. The fedgov is trying to do something that has to come from the home. You cannot replace parents no matter how much you may want to try. My children now bring their lunch from home. They are not alone. As long as you insist on doing this, the number of children participating in this failed approach will decline. Deprivation is not education.

  15. Jeff Jones says:

    Many of you at the USDA are obese. Why not serve yourself the same calorie restricted disgusting meals you want to serve kids? I’d like to see the numbers of how many USDA employees are obese, how many suffer from diabetes brought on by their piggery, and how much their piggery is costing us. I’d like to see a list of the typical meal a USDA employee packs away on a typical day.

  16. kringeesmom says:

    Before you tell me what to do in my own home with my own child, please implement your ideas at all federal buildings. Include the White House, the House of Representatives and The Senate. Let the Federal employees eat your diet before try to implement your dietary ideas on private citizens.

  17. Bradley Niven says:

    Fox news just used this blog to spend 5 minutes claiming the FDA is trying to control what we feed our children at home. Suggested the fda is in the process of figuring out a way to police this issue and force americans to comply with the menu at home.

  18. Janet Alvord says:

    I am on the food committee at our local school district. Recently we ate lunch at our kindergarten building. The little girl next to me ate her cheese stick and drank her milk, AND THREW THE REST OF HER LUNCH IN THE TRASH! If you ask my own children, they will tell you I am all for eating in a healthy manner, but the new restrictions imposed have forced schools into such a tight corner that many children simply won’t eat what is being offered. I believe these guidelines need to be loosened to allow the districts more freedom to choose for themselves, while still making healthy choices. And to suggest that we follow the same plan in our homes?! NO COMMENT!

  19. rwilymz says:

    How is a school lunch being tossed without a nibble an improvement? Are you suggesting that eliminating the steps of mastication, digestion and deglutition make it more efficient?

  20. F Kaiser says:

    People started becoming obese when the USDA started the food pyramid. The more you emphasize carbohydrates, the heavier people will become. And the kids have so little fat in the new meals that they are leaving lunch hungry. Offer fewer grains and potatoes. Offer lower carb fruits and veggies. Give them more fat, more protein. Two ounces of protein is not enough. You do want them to be able to think, right? Ohhhhhh, maybe that’s the plan. A generation that can’t think…..

  21. Jere Krischel says:

    Instead of restricting calories at schools, why not restrict carbohydrates, the true root cause of obesity and other chronic diseases?

    If someone invites you to a gourmet meal, and asks you to “bring your appetite”, you may decide to skip a few meals before, or maybe go and do some exercise so you can get really hungry. Why would we think, then, that this same course of action, which increases hunger, would help obese people lose weight?

    We need to realize that obesity is caused by elevated insulin levels, which is driven by elevated blood sugar levels, which is driven by carbohydrate intake.

    Want to make a dent in childhood obesity? Stop serving our kids carbohydrates, and instead give them lots of fat, and adequate protein.

  22. Silvia says:

    If your kids are eating their school lunch and are still hungry, pack a snack. If they won’t eat what’s being offered, save your money (and whatever tax money is being used) and pack a lunch and the snack. No one is making your kids buy the school lunch; you have the choice to bring your own.

  23. rwilymz says:

    [[When did cows ever eat corn? Seriously]]

    Whenever they got an opportunity to, actually. They’d eat themselves sick because it tastes better than dried weed stalks. They’d give themselves acidosis and sometimes die – terminal case of indigestion.

    Little boy blue, come blow your horn
    The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn…

    But, yes, nature designed ruminants to be the scrap-vegetation eaters: whatever plants nothing else will eat, give it to cows, sheep, goats, camel, deer … they’re aren’t picky. Their stomachs came in four sections for a reason.


    On the other hand, I highly approve of all the critical comments here.

    It took a generation to get into this mess, it’ll take AT LEAST one generation to get out again.

    It’s not enough that USDA bans soda pop and Hostess Twinkies from school vending machines [they did, right? I mean, that would have been a logical first step ...]. They’ve got to go getting all high-handed and draconian in one fell swoop.

    Name once that this method of intervention has ever worked. Just once … please.

  24. Morgan says:

    The school lunch is bad, calorie this calorie that. Just saying!I didnt even eat lunch as my brother says there is no way to ruin lunch but wheat grilled cheese and no salted noodle… REALLY!! my whole health class is thinking about “boycouting” and everybody pack. Our lunch ladies arent to blame though. The whole school is going over edge we are growing teens and should be able to eat enough. Today in health we watched “We are hungry” check it out on youtube, and this is how we feel!

  25. John says:

    As a high school senior I would love to complain. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to ask WHY DOES THE GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIZE CORN AND NOT OTHER HEALTHIER THINGS? I blame corn for most of the obesity caused around the U.S. It isn’t the parents fault or the kids. Its the big buisness making unhealthy products so cheap you have to buy them. I would love for a member of the USDA to answer my one measly question. THANKS!

  26. Tambry says:

    Don’t you just love the “nanny state government” we now have? Love all the critical comments on this site. Glad to see we are all not sheeple. Government out of school lunches!! Don’t you have more important things to mess up than our children’s lunch rooms?

  27. Tanya says:

    I just don’t understand why the goverment feels the need to decided what our children eat. I feed my child healthy filling meals. She comes home everyday from school telling me how hungry she is. I went and ate with her and found out exactly why that is. The get the smallest piece of protein and very little carbohydrates. Yes! they get all of the fruit and vegetables that their little bodies can eat. That doesn’t fill them up and keep them going. The human body gets energy from fats, carbohydrates and protein. Not fruits and vegetables. Kids are obese because their parents don’t feed them properly, that is not my problem so why should my child have to suffer. Parents need to start being parents and take care of their kids. That is not the goverments job to be the everyones keeper.

  28. Kristy says:

    My oldest a 10th grader plays sports all year round. He refuses to eat the lunch not because it is healthy because he says it is horrible. This is a child who does eat healthy outside of school. He then will turn around and go to football for 3 hours after school without eating.

    My 6th grader has allergies to milk, peanuts and tree nuts. They can accomodate the nut allergies no problem but I was told they must give her milk to drink it is a USDA guidelines now. They can offer her lactaid milk but she is not lactose intolerant she has a milk allergy. They are not allowed to give her a water instead.

  29. Doug Wieboldt says:

    Obviously a lot of ignorant wingers decided to vent… How vexed are they? It’s disconcerting that the wingers think that science is static (I understand wingers that you don’t know what I’m talking about – but that’s ok cause I’m talking to the people in the forum who aren’t dingbats). Shouldn’t they study up on an issue before demonstrating how ignorant they are???

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