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Change You Can Taste: School Lunch Program Gets a Makeover

The Patriot High School cafeteria in Nokesville, Va.  Students and parents from the Prince William County School District were invited to the annual food tasting to sample some potential items on the school menu. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

The Patriot High School cafeteria in Nokesville, Va. Students and parents from the Prince William County School District were invited to the annual food tasting to sample some potential items on the school menu. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

When you walk around many of the nation’s cafeterias, you will notice that plenty of changes have taken place on school lunch menus. Thanks to new standards and other efforts by the USDA, the lunches for our children have become healthier.

The new standards, which were implemented for the 2012-2013 school year, made significant improvements to the National School Lunch Program. Some of the changes include offering only fat-free or low-fat milk options, ensuring that fruits and vegetables are served every day of the week, and increasing the amount of whole grain-rich foods on menus.

USDA has a large role in making these healthy menu changes possible. The department’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the National School Lunch Program while the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchases the program’s meats, poultry, fruits, and vegetables. In total, USDA purchases about 15 to 20 percent of the products in the School Lunch Program.

“We take pride in what we do here at USDA,” said AMS’ Commodity Procurement Branch Chief Duane Williams. “In the past couple of years, we made a concerted effort to purchase healthier products. Our team of experts has helped us do things like reducing the fat and sodium levels in many of our products.”

USDA AMS Commodity Procurement Branch Chief Duane Williams receives a plate of chicken, rice, and green beans. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

USDA AMS Commodity Procurement Branch Chief Duane Williams receives a plate of chicken, rice, and green beans. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

Recently, Patriot High School in Nokesville, Va., held a food tasting. This open house invited all of the students and parents in the Prince William County School District to sample some potential foods that may be on the menu next year. A team of USDA employees got a chance to participate in the event and see children enjoying the healthier options. “It’s great to see these children eating the foods we purchase and trying some new dishes too,” said Williams.

When looking around the crowded cafeteria, there were examples of change in every dish. Children sampled things like edamame salads, spicy chicken breasts, sweet and sour chicken, and chick pea salads. Many of the foods featured at the event were purchased by USDA, including chicken fajita meat used to make chicken tostadas and the beans and raisins that starred in a sweet rice dish. From the smiles and positive reactions from the taste testers, it’s obvious that the dishes were a hit and that the palettes of school-aged children have evolved over the years.

Chicken tostadas were one of the many foods featured at the event. The tostadas were made using USDA Chicken Fajita Meat. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

Chicken tostadas were one of the many foods featured at the event. The tostadas were made using USDA Chicken Fajita Meat. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

FNS’ Program Support Branch Chief Laura Walter observed that “schoolchildren are becoming sophisticated eaters.” Walter also mentioned that FNS has “adjusted the foods in the program to meet the changing demands of students.”

Another element of change in school meals programs is the increased student involvement in menu planning. “The recipes for the foods featured at the Patriot High School food tasting were developed by employees,” said Serena Suthers, Prince William County Food Service Director. “But during the event, students and their parents were able to provide feedback about the items.” This enables children to participate in the menu selection process and develop an appreciation for finding creative ways to make the menus healthier. Students also now participate in programs like Recipes for Healthy Kids to team up with chefs and others in the community to develop recipes for items on their school’s menu.

USDA is excited about the improvements to the National School Lunch Program. Events like the food tasting at Patriot High School are an important step in getting communities excited about the healthier options as well.

To read more about the food tasting event at Patriot High School, see this article in USA Today.

Chick peas were also on the menu. With dishes like this being served, it’s clear that the palettes of school-aged children have evolved over the years. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

Chick peas were also on the menu. With dishes like this being served, it’s clear that the palettes of school-aged children have evolved over the years. Photo by Hakim Fobia, AMS

7 Responses to “Change You Can Taste: School Lunch Program Gets a Makeover”

  1. Janet O'Dell says:

    WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL program, in the long run it will benefit America in so many positive ways!!! I am so proud of USDA for directing this effort. Now, let’s get all the artificial and poisonous flavorings and other un-natural things out of the rest of America’s food.

  2. Kara says:

    There food looks great and all, but I seen my sons school lunches and its nothing like this and as for him being under weight & sick many times this past year.. When I went to eat lunch with him I saw why. Then I sent his lunch and snack everyday he was crying about how hungry he was. One can only eat so many sandwiches. I want government to stop trying to control everything we do. My son is no way fat. So can he get some food at school now.

  3. J says:

    This is a joke. My high school children informed me that the items on the new school lunch menu tastes like a combination of vomit and butthole. They take their lunches almost every day now or I go to Subway or some other restaurant and buy it.

  4. PL says:

    If we got rid of all the artificial flavourings, we would have no foods on the shelves of our local grocery stores; it is inevitable and they are not poisonous. Eating processed meats over a long period of time and in huge amounts can be considered poisonous to our bodies. I can tell you want is unnatural- pumping animals with hormones and antibiotics.

  5. Salvador Cummings Tapia says:

    Me parece una excelente iniciativa del departamento de agricultura,de Estados Unidos.

    Soy de Panamá, y es un muy buen programa para que se pudiera duplicar por el Ministerio de Agricultura en mi país; felicidades por el programa de alimentos y almuerzos mas sanos

  6. sharon Mitchiner says:

    Keep up the good work. It is great that an educated palette can lead to an educated child. Our school district had a culinary camp for kids this summer. There are herbs growing in containers gracing our campus.

  7. Owen says:

    This is NOT the case in my school district, our kids eat brown lettuce and oranges that I am unable to peel!! the school lunch is so disgusting none of the teachers eat it, I am told they buy food from the lowest bidder (so imagine the junk they are feeding the kids) and are trying to make money by pushing choc milk, that cannot source 100% juice, this is a complete joke… having looked at school lunch and the ingredients lists I don’t need to ask why so many kids are unable to sit still and function in a classroom… so very very sad

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