Tag Archives: USA

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?

Relaunching School Food World AND the inaugural International School Meals Day

School Food World had a bit of stumbling start last year, but we’re re-launching with the hopes of doing a better job of living up to our aims of reporting, promoting, and celebrating best practice in schools catering around the world.

So with our first post of 2013 and marking our relaunch we have the honour of announcing that the inaugural International School Meals Day will take place on March 8th this year.

Many in the catering and school meals industry will be familiar with School Meals Week. In the UK and the US School Meals Week celebrates the many different aspects and benefits of school meals for children in those respective countries. In the UK, the last School Meals Week was an even greater success than previous years with more schools than ever taking part. It also saw the release of this report on the views of parents and the nutritional standards, particularly in respect of Academies being excused from adhering to the standards.

It was hoped originally to link School Meal Week in the UK with the one in the U.S. but differing term times and holiday periods has made that difficult. So instead people on both sides of the pond have set about establishing an International School Meals Day which will hope to highlight and celebrate the importance of school meals all around the world.

The inaugural day and the concept paper behind it is the result of an evolving UK and US relationship centred on practice and policy about promoting healthy eating in schools. For two years caterers and other interested parties on both sides of the Atlantic have been sharing examples through workshops, conferences and study visits to improve best practice in both countries. They also share similar challenges

The aim of International School Meals Day (#ISMD2013) is to focus and publicise the efforts, expertise and successes of both groups, but also allow other caterers around the world to participate and share their own.

The aims of the Day are:

  • To highlight the value of nutrition in school meals around the world and to encourage those involved with school food service to improve the quality and standards of school food.

 

  • To emphasise the connection between healthy eating and better learning, and to promote the integration of nutrition education into schools’ curricula.

 

  • To connect children around the world via different media platforms and encourage healthy eating habits and promote wellbeing in schools as a valuable way of life to pass on to future generations.

 

  • To share school meal programme success stories from across the globe so that others may learn and replicate best practice.

 

  • To promote and support research activities in school meals programmes to demonstrate their impact on child wellbeing.

 

  • To raise awareness of hunger and poverty issues worldwide and particularly in developing countries which are being addressed through school feeding programmes, and to highlight successes and those who need support.

 

Of course individual countries and organisations will have different ideas for how they wish to celebrate International School Meals Day but the organisers have some ideas on how people can join in and support the aims of the day. For instance:

  • Twinning of schools via international education links
  • Have an international menu day
  • Hold fundraising activities to support school feeding programmes in developing countries
  • Add food and global citizenship to the curriculum that day
  • Run cooking activities with an international theme
  • Go mad on social media to highlight innovation in your school
  • Publish your research to coincide with the day
  • Promote your efforts to the media

What other suggestions do you have for celebrating International School Meals Day? Will you get involved?

School Food World aims to support and publicise the first International School Meals Day, so if you plan on getting involved and you’d like to share your activities do contact us via Twitter @SchoolFoodWorld, on Facebook, or email us via info@schoolfoodworld.co.uk.

News round-up

It’s been a while between stories, so here’s a neat little round-up of innovations in school food around the world that caught our eye over the past few days.

In the US, school food provider Preferred Meal Systems has an online service that lets parents find out more about the menu and nutritional content of their children’s lunches and school breakfasts.

By logging onto www.schoolmenu.com parents in some districts will be able to access the nutrition information of each meal. And of course the meals now adhere to the new standards. The information is accessible in pop-ups as the cursor moves over the page.

Other information on payment etc. is also available, and there will also be blogs and information from a panel experts. You can read more about it here.

 

Researchers have shown that caterers can use the same techniques that marketers use to sell junk food, to help children make healthier choices in the canteen.

In advertising it’s not unusual to use familiar cartoon characters, TV icons and superheroes to sell cereals, pasta shapes or sweets, but researchers at Cornell University New York found that using well known characters on healthy products would also prompt children to choose them.

So when apples had an Elmo sticker (from Sesame Street) children picked them rather than choosing cookies or sweets. Read the original report with a link to the Cornell findings here.

 

There’s an interview here with Kate Adamick who has a new book out called Lunch Money: Serving Healthy School Food in a Sick Economy.

She runs a Lunch Teachers boot camp which teaches school caterers how to budget effectively and still serve fresh healthy meals.

 

School Nutrition Association in the USA has conducted a survey of foodservice professionals in the nation’s schools and found that more than 90% of those responding think that meeting the new standards will incur greater costs, and 67% of districts believe that the federal reimbursement for school meals will not cover the cost of producing them.

So, many have got creative when it comes to encouraging students to try and therefore buy the meals. More than 87% were doing taste tests with students on new menu items, and therefore engaging students in menu selection, while others were offering free samples to promote familiarity with new dishes. You can read the full report here.

 

In Rhode Island USA school caterer Sodexo has teamed up with a local farm which will produce fresh fruit and vegetables for schools in 11 communities. The Pezza Farm has turned over 15 acres to the project which will enable kids to eat fresh, local produce as part of their school lunches.

 

This Washington Post feature describes how school cafeterias in the US are using supermarket display techniques to encourage students to eat more fruit and veg. By placing bright bowls in easy to grab places kids were taking fruit more regularly, and some operators even taking fruit out into the playground for children to eat on the spot.

Others were marketing veg using labels like ‘mellow yellow corn’ to make their dishes sound more interesting, or using competition promotions to encourage children to make healthier choices, or even trying surprising and challenging ideas to throw down the gauntlet on hard to please kids with ‘Fear Factor Smoothies’ containing different ingredients like spinach.

But it seems to be paying off because teachers are already feeding back that classroom behaviours are improving.

 

A complete overhaul of the school cafeterias in Palm Beach County has renewed interest in school lunches as the restaurants now resemble a modern food court.

Instead of the standard counters and lines, in the ‘Cafe Atlantic’ students can visit different stands including Asian Xperience, Café Sol y Mar (Spanish), Mangia Mangia (Italian), Atlantic Gourmet Deli and Beyond Burgers to get their lunches.

As well as being modern and appealing to trendy teens, the stands reduce queues and waiting times for students who also benefit from better seating and four flat screen TVs.

The improvements have been a big hit with students at Atlantic High and will be rolled out to other schools in the area. Here’s the full report.

 

And finally, a new study has shown that changing the food that’s available in vending machines may be the best way to slow childhood obesity.

The study in the journal Pediatrics tracked teens in 40 states over three years and found a strong correlation between the children’s weight and the state rules governing so-called ‘competitive foods’ which are the freely available vended food and drinks outside the usual lunch programme.

Students in states which had strict laws on the kinds of food and drinks available in vending machines gained on average 2.2 lb less than those living in states that did not have such strict legislation, or even none at all.

Similarly, children that were overweight in the fifth grade had a much better chance of attaining a healthy BMI by the time they reached the eighth grade in states with laws, than those without.

This could show that in order for the new nutritional standards on school lunches to have the full effect, uniform laws on the products available from vending machines will also have to be introduced nation-wide. The full story can be read here.