Category Archives: Americas

Go veggie, go!

We all know that the kids stereotype is that children will not ‘eat their greens’ whilst the reality is that most children will in fact enjoy several familiar vegetables, but would you have the nerve – or the capability – to make your school restaurant completely vegetarian?

In the USA, the country’s (perhaps) first ever all vegetarian menu served in a public school has been officially recognised in Queens, New York.

The Active Learning Elementary School serves more than 400 primary children – from nursery age to third grade – with breakfast and lunch every day. They had gradually been reducing the number of meat-based meals they were providing, serving a vegetarian lunch initially three and then four days a week; but from January this year they switched to 100% vegetarian.

Principal Robert Groff who co-founded the school in 2008 said, “The founding of our school was based on health and nutrition and teaching kids how to make healthy choices in the belief that they would be more successful academically and in their life.”

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Now a typical menu will include vegetarian chilli, falafel with cucumber salad, a tofu (roasted in sesame sauce) wrap with plantains, or a black bean and cheese quesadilla served with salsa and roast potatoes. On Fridays the children still get to eat a (vegetarian) pizza.

The move came about partly because the school has about 70% Indian and Asian students. Groff said, “We started to watch the kids. One, what they would bring in to school, and two, what they would gravitate towards in the cafeteria.” Observing a higher number of vegetarian choices, the school partnered with the not-for-profit organisation New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to help them make the change, assisted by the fact that the school’s head cook is also vegetarian.

All the meals meet the same mandatory USDA protein requirements as a meat dish would.

Echoing research done by the Children’s Food Trust, the executive director of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food – Amie Hamlin – said, “We know that when students eat a healthy diet, they’re able to focus better. Their immune systems are stronger, so they’re sick less, and then they’re in school more and they’re able to focus and concentrate better, and therefore learn better.”

Most parents have apparently received the changes well, and for those who are less keen Groff encourages them to send their own lunches in. The kids themselves all seem to really enjoy the food, which may be interesting for many school chefs to note.

As mum to a daughter who doesn’t eat meat (we eat fish but not meat) I am frequently perplexed by the options she has for her school meal, and nonplussed by the way she is often treated by the system, and I am far from convinced that the vegetarian dishes she is given have enough (if any) protein in them. So this story is especially interesting to me. Do you think your school would ever be able to serve an all vegetarian menu – even for just a week?

US Students say ‘We are hungry’.

Several weeks in to the new school year and whilst many schools are reporting success with the new healthier lunches, not all students are happy with them – in particular the restricted calorie counts.

Kansas school children say ‘set the policy on fire’.

The new rules say that all meals must include at least one fruit or vegetable whether the child will eat it or not, and many kids will take their fruit portion but then drop it straight into the garbage. Grains are switched to 50% wholegrain and from 2014 all will be wholegrain. Carbohydrates and protein is restricted and all milk is fat free or reduced fat.

The changes are part of the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids bill which came into law earlier this year and is designed to get kids eating far more healthily and to help curb frightening levels of child obesity in the US, but the calorie restrictions are a big change to what many kids are used to.

For kindergarten to 5th grade children the calories are set at 550 – 650 calories, 6th to 8th grade children get between 600 and 700 calories, and 9th to 12th grade teens are served meals of between 750 to 850 calories.

There have been some fantastic early success stories, like the Nebraska schools which have been recognised and awarded for reaching the gold standard in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge. Kitchen staff now all wear gold pins and the students were told by the USDA regional administrator that she would tell Washington politicians about their story.

Seven Lincoln district schools have all been recognised not only for their healthier lunches but also for their excellent wellbeing programmes and physical education.

But elsewhere some children are unhappy with their lunches. A CNN report here details how a Capac, Michigan school boy started posting pictures of his lunches to Facebook and began a boycott of the school cafeteria.

Similarly in Parsippanny New Jersey 1,000 students boycotted their school canteen bringing lunch bags instead. The children say they are left hungry by their restricted calorie meals. Moves like this could be disastrous for school caterers who will need to act fast to change things around or face big financial losses.

Meanwhile a YouTube music video called We Are Hungry has received almost a million hits. The video which is a spoof of the song We Are Young was put together by students at a Kansas school who say their new meals are not filling and they go home feeling hungry.

UK caterers have faced a similar – well publicised – early backlash to healthier school meals. Perhaps they can offer their US counterparts some advice on how to cope with bad news stories like this and act quickly to get their students back on side and in the dining halls.

We Are Hungry

Innovative NOLA – New Orleans New School Lunches

School caterers well known in the UK are partnering a fantastic school lunch innovation in New Orleans, USA.

Thirty six per cent of Louisiana school children aged between 10 and 17 years have been shown to be overweight, and those from a minority or low income background are the most affected. Because they eat the majority of their daily calories and around two thirds of their meals at school, changing the school food is a great way to tackle this.

In a bid to address the issue, a New Orleans social enterprise organisation called Propeller: A Force for Innovation is leading an initiative that will deliver more than 10,000 healthy school dinners per day to 28 schools across New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Propeller have received funding for the initiative from a number of trusts including the W.K Kellog Foundation, Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. And in order to deliver the meals, they have partnered with Revolution Foods who have expertise in providing healthy school meals, and KIPP New Orleans Schools to create what they call the School Food Authority.

The programme has set some healthy food standards which the school lunches must comply with, including rules that nothing is fried, that there are no hormones or nitrates in the meat, no canned fruit or veg, and no high-fructose corn syrup. Instead each meal is made from scratch, contains a fresh fruit and vegetable and 5% of the produce must have been sourced from local farmers.

Signing up to provide these meals under these terms are caterers Chartwells, Sodexo, Liberty’s Kitchen and Revolution Foods. For local producers who have traditionally found it hard to break into the farm to school supply chain, it’s a significant step and a great opportunity.

Getting the initiative off the ground has taken three years but feedback on the new lunches has already been great with some teachers reporting that students say they feel more full after their healthier meals, and are paying better attention in afternoon classes.

Getting positive outcomes from the students is one of the programme’s key goals and Propeller have set in place monitoring plans to check food quality, student participation, student behaviours, and their attitudes towards the initiative. The hope is that in the long term this could provide a best practice model of healthy school food provision that could be rolled out on a wider basis across the nation.

For more information you can see the original report here.