School lunches have gotten healthier and Jackson is working to ensure a variety of healthy menu options or students.
The federal mandated healthy lunch movement is in full force and has transformed many school cafeterias including those in the Jackson Local School district.
School lunch menus used to be innundated with options such as corn dogs, pepperoni pizza, hot dogs, chicken strips, chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies and many other tasty items.
Those days are gone.
Those menu items may have been popular with the students they are, according to the new mandates, not healthy options for kids. So, starting last year, the National School Lunch program implemented Food Based Menus which offers stricter guidelines for school lunches.
ON THE MENU
Lunchrooms across the U.S. are now filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Other items such as pizza crusts and desserts are made with whole grains.
The same is true for Jackson.
“It's all about being whole-grain rich and I started bringing in the whole grains two years ago,” Escola said, noting the changes were implemented slowly. “The kids, at first, really didn't like the brown breads but they are getting more used to it this year. Right now, our district is at 78 percent whole-grain based. We have whole grains for the buns, dinner rolls, pasta and any of the other items that we can find in whole grains.”
Fruits and vegetables worked into the lunch menu have to have plenty of color – dark greens, reds and oranges. Additionally, Jackson always offers tossed salads, green beans and corn. The new menu offers tomatoes, spinach, romaine lettuce, peas and carrots.
Many students are not fond of the fresh fruits and vegetables, so the district has learned to make the best use of these menu options.
“We have seen the kids throw out some of the fresh fruits and vegetables,” Escola said. “We added a bin for the students to put the apples back and then we rewash them for the next day.”
The dairy requirements and desserts have also changed.
White, unflavored milk offered in the cafeterias is low-fat (1 percent) but the flavored milks, such as chocolate milk, are fat-free. Desserts can only be served two times a week and have to be whole-grain based.
National School Lunch program mandates allow for foods with limited saturated fat, but foods containing trans fats cannot be served in the school cafeterias. Escola said that the district hasn't fried foods for years. All foods including French fries are baked.
“Before I add anything new to the menus, I have to check to see if it meets all the regulations,” Escola said. “I'm planning to add a frozen yogurt and I found out that is considered sound and nutritional enough to meet the requirements.”
Escola said the new mandates also limit the amount of calories each student consumes during the meals. For students in the kindergarten through fifth grades, calories are limited to 550 to 650 at each meal. Students in the sixth through eighth grades must get between 600 and 700 calories per meal, while students in the ninth through 12th grades receive between 750 and 850 calories per meal.
“We've gotten calls from parents about the requirements and limits,” Escola said. “Last year, we saw a lot of kids pack their lunches. This year, the kids have gotten more accepting of the new menus and we have seen fewer packed lunches.
Michele Haas, head cook at Jackson High School believes kids are accepting the menu offerings better this year.
“We have seen an increase in kids buying their lunch this year versus last year,” Haas said.
Nic Joy, a senior at Jackson High School, said he buys lunch almost every day at the cafeteria and he has gotten used to the offerings.
“It's good that they offer a consistent menu and there are things like fresh baked bread a couple of times a week, that is nice,” Joy said.“My favorites are the tacos and subs and I really like the coffee and bagel bar and the smoothies.”