School Lunches: Joining Nutrition and Taste

Do you know what's in your child's school cafeteria? A new wave of government programs regulating school lunches will ensure a healthy lunch for all students.

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Cutting back on sodium isn’t as easy as it sounds. “That will only reduce  flavor, and the kids won’t eat what doesn’t taste good,” says Preston. “Herbs and spices need to be added to recipes to replace the salt. Those recipes need to then be tested and approved. And they have to yield mass quantities.”

In addition to thousands of à la carte items, Radnor Township offers about 1,300 NSLP lunches daily, and Tredyffrin/Easttown prepares 3,000. Lower Merion makes up to 4,000, plus another 500 for private schools in Montgomery County. “Private schools are exempt from the nutritional guidelines that public schools follow, but most of them adhere pretty closely to them,” Castaneda says.

Reducing sodium on such a massive scale is so significant a challenge for manufacturers that the Healthy Kids Act is giving them 10 years to meet the requirements. That’s too long for Nissel. “But it does, finally, do what we food-service directors need, which is to put collective pressure on the manufacturers,” she says. “It’s not just one school district asking for changes; it’s all of us—and it’s the law. The manufacturers have to make changes to recipes and ingredients if they want us to be able to buy their products. I think that’s great.”

Other regulations in the Healthy Kids Act have been met by area schools. Sodas have been banished, trans fat eliminated, and vending machines cleared of candy and filled only with healthy snacks. At Tredyffrin/Easttown schools, machines are serviced by a company that offers only organic foods.

The Healthy Kids Act also regulates school fundraisers. “The goal is to not use food—and certainly not candy—as a fundraiser,” Preston says. “Wrapping paper, pencils, doodads and whatnots—that’s what the kids sell.”

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