2015: The Year of Healthier School Meals

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 97 percent of American schools report that they currently meet the school meal standards. The current standards promote whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein, and recommend less sugar and salt.

Schools across the country are finding creative, sustainable, and affordable ways to provide healthier meals for students.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) was passed in 2010, but it was phased in over several years, finally going completely into effect in 2014. The program helps to fund healthy meals for students in low income areas for the next five years.

Updated Nutrition Standards

As part of the HHFKA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the school meal standards. They went into effect in 2012, and by 2015, most schools report compliance. The new standards require cafeterias to offer healthier options, like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting salt and sugar.

Vending Machine Regulations

In addition to school meals, the HHFKA also led to healthier snack options for students. That means a lot of schools switched from soda to water and from candy bars to snack mixes and other healthy options.

Team Nutrition

Team Nutrition is a USDA program that offers help to schools through Team Nutrition Training Grants, training, resources, and nutrition education lessons. In 2015, the Wisconsin Team Nutrition used their funding to create a contest for middle school and high school students. The healthy cooking competition is a way to get students interested in healthy meals and teach them how to make their own healthy meals.

Sustainability and Farm to School

Sustainability is another major movement of 2015, and when combined with schools, can be an opportunity for education, affordable food and a nutrition boost. In an effort to offer students healthier meal options, some schools across the nation have started their own vegetable gardens, cared for by students. All vegetables can be used in school lunches, providing a cost-effective and healthy alternative to processed meals.

Fuel Up to Play 60

Another USDA project, Fuel up to Play 60 combines exercise with healthy eating by promoting nutrition in school as a way to fuel the body. The goal is to encourage a healthier lifestyle, not just healthy meals.

Giving Free Meals to Hungry Students Can Get You Fired

Colorado and Idaho school districts have fired food service workers in the past year for providing a free meal to a hungry student. This is the case of Della Curry, the school lunch room manager who got fired by the Cherry Creek School District for giving free meals to students who couldn’t pay. Dalene Bowden, a cafeteria worker at Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho, also stepped in for a 12-year-old student who didn’t qualify for a free meal and had no money to pay. A week later, Bowden was terminated from her position.

According to statistics, over 21 million children from low-income families qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch through the National School Lunch Program if their family’s income is 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Sadly, this means a matter of a few dollars can be the difference between getting lunch or not. In some public schools, students who don’t qualify for the low-cost or free lunches program are given a credit that ranges from $5 to $20 when they come to school without money for their meal. Other schools such as the Cherry Creek School District, provide hot meals to students the first three times they forget their lunch, and a small cheese sandwich and milk the fourth time.

As Curry herself noted, the so-called meal provides little nutrition to hungry students, and is not enough to satisfy growing kids and teens. Even worse, getting the cheese sandwich treatment is humiliating once the kids are old enough to understand its real meaning. Yet, many kids in schools across the nation are refused even these meals. “Cafeteria workers are told to throw out the child’s hot tray, leaving the student embarrassed and with nothing to eat,” states Bowden.

In a nationwide survey by No Hungry Child, a staggering 75% of educators noticed that their students came to school hungry, which greatly impacts their academic performance. Many teachers have paid for lunches for hungry children out of their own pocket.

But schools are within their legal rights to deny the students and hold their parents accountable, according to National Education Association. In one case, Willingboro Township Public Schools in New Jersey sent a notice to families threatening to dump students’ lunches in the trash if they were delinquent in payments. According to school food advocate Dana Woldow, this is one of the strictest policies in the nation, however, the consequences should be for the parent or guardian, and not for the kids.

Start the New Year by Reaching Out to Your Students

Written by Milt Miller – Most school food programs are underachievers when it comes to student participation. The participation issue is a many faceted issue; one in which most schools blame their underachieving on the new rules and regulations. Many believe their students have lost faith in school meals due to the prescriptive nature of the new guidelines. Many say the kids don’t like being told what they must eat and don’t like the new healthy offerings.

In order to move forward we have to ponder, if the students are saying this, what are they really saying? Are we as directors and school food professionals really hearing them correctly? Or are we hearing something entirely different and easier for us to swallow? Are we really listening? Most times the difference between mediocre participation and great participation is found to be in the translation of what we really hear our customers saying.

I just finished reading an article about the 2015 School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania Director of the year Jillian Meloy. Jillian is the Food Service Director at Greater Latrobe School District in PA. This woman is really hearing what her students are saying and she is responding. When I read this article I knew what my next article would report. Great participation is directly proportional to the effort taken to listen and understand what customers are truly saying, and responding to those requests. 

“Your clients are the kids,” Meloy said. “They really have a voice in what they want to eat, what they like, what they don’t like.” “It’s really showing them what a balanced meal is. If the students take every single component, it’s a pretty meal, and it’s very, very balanced.” Jillian keeps track of what fast-food and chain restaurants are serving as a way to see what foods are being marketed to students and what they want to eat. She uses that information to develop meals that are appealing while being healthy. “I watch what they’re eating. I see what they’re putting in their grocery carts at Wal-Mart. That type of stuff helps me see what the kids really like to eat,” Meloy said.

What do her peers say about her? “She just doesn’t stay stagnant. She’s out there reaching out to the families of her district and different community groups.” Meloy works with a group of students to get feedback on what meals are popular and what should be changed. She also organizes samples of new menu items to get feedback on whether they should be added to the menu. That feedback will continue to be important as more regulations are passed on to school districts. Meloy said, “The next challenge is reducing levels of sodium in meals while still making them appealing.” As Jillian continues to adapt meals and encourage healthy eating habits among students, she hopes that her efforts impact what foods they eat throughout their lives. “You’re really making a difference, because they’re still growing,” she said.

Wow, congratulations Jillian on a job well done! How many of us are really listening to what our student customers are saying? How many of us take the time to look at what they are eating outside the school café”? This is a new year and at this time of year we are starting to look at next school year and plan our approach to winding down the old year. Why not take this as an opportunity to make a commitment to reaching out to our student clients and truly listening and looking at what they are really telling us?

How many of us are developing menu items based on current trends, not just using new products to produce the same old tired menu items? How many are effectively using student focus groups and not just going through the motions to say we have one? How many are reaching out to parents and community organizations to share what we are doing in our café’s? Are we providing our staffs the opportunity to tell us what students are really saying?

As this New Year dawns, let’s take the opportunity to make the remainder of this year and all of next, all about reaching out to our customers and meeting their needs. I guarantee your participation will increase and so will your revenues. If you are having trouble thinking of ways to do this, contact me. I promise I will listen and share some ideas based on what you are telling me. Let’s make this year the year of the customer!

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

Healthy School Lunches During The Holidays

Healthy School Lunches: The Key to a Lifetime of Good Eating Habits – Even During the Holidays!

Eating healthy is a skill like any other. Children need to be taught healthy eating the same way they are taught to do math or ride a bike. After daily practice, it may become a habit, but it’s necessary to continue teaching healthy eating every day.

Some schools are slowly moving towards offering healthier options to students, but hot lunch options are not kids’ only food choices in school. Parents also play an important role in students’ healthy eating decisions.

Does eating healthy in school make a difference in kids’ lives long term? What can they learn in school about healthy habits? How can we help them practice healthy eating over the holidays?

Teaching Healthy Eating in Schools

It is often said that giving a child food will feed them for one day, but teaching them to find and make their own food will feed them for a lifetime. With the growing health crisis in the United States, it is more important than ever to make sure that our children understand how to make healthy decisions and listen to their bodies so that they can continue to do so.

There are several things that children can learn in school about staying healthy.

Eat Slowly – When children are given adequate time to eat their lunches, they can eat slowly and are more likely to feel when their body is full. Rushing through a meal can lead to overeating followed by a lethargic afternoon. It is important to offer children enough time to eat lunch during the day.

Choose Healthy Options – Schools are beginning to offer healthier options to students, but it is also important to teach kids how to select the healthy options, like fruits and vegetables. Often, deciding what to eat when they aren’t hungry, or pre-ordering lunch at the beginning of the day is not only cost effective for schools, but it leads to healthier choices for kids. It also teaches kids that selecting your foods when you aren’t hungry can lead to healthier decisions.

Eat Fresh & Local – Schools that have gardens can teach kids not only how to grow and maintain their own fresh, local foods, but they can educate students about the effects of their actions on the environment, and the effects that fresh, local foods have on people when they eat.

Maintaining Healthy Choices During the Holidays – If students have established these habits in school, they are likely to remember them over the holidays. As a parent, you can encourage your child to do things like shop after a meal, or select healthy options for holiday meals.

Do Longer Lunch Periods Benefit Students?

The United States has been trying to figure out how to improve its education system for years. Academics are being redesigned, and movements are fighting for art, music, and gym classes, and even recess. But, what about lunch periods?

When lunch periods are mentioned in schools, the debate usually centers around the nutrition value of the food offered. However, the length of the lunch period can also have an effect on student health and academics.

Why are Lunch Periods Shortened?

There are many reasons why schools offer shorter lunch periods. Some school districts push for a shorter school day that still fits in all the required academic time, so lunch is the first thing to go. Sometimes, administrators fear giving kids any free time, thinking that they’re more likely to get into trouble and face disciplinary action. Some schools are just overwhelmed with kids, and don’t have the space to keep all students at lunch for a long period of time because they have to rotate.

How Can Longer Lunch Periods Benefit Students?

Healthier Meals – One of the top reasons for allowing students to have a longer lunch period is that they can have healthier meals.

  • Often, food preparation takes longer for healthier meals, so when the staff has more time to prepare, the students can have healthier options.
  • When students have more time to eat, they are likely to eat more. That means that even if the students start with dessert, they’ll have time to eat all of their foods – including the fruits and vegetables. This is especially important in low income schools, where students depend on school lunches for up to half of their daily food.

Time to Relax – Rushing to eat is an unhealthy practice, and neither is a completely structured day with no down time.

  • Rushing to eat doesn’t give students time to recognize things like signs of fullness, or the way that certain foods make them feel. Eating slowly allows kids to learn how to eat what is good for them, and when to stop.
  • Attention spans are dropping among students, and short lunch periods may be a part of the problem. Allowing students to have some down time to relax, socialize, and stop worrying about academics is critical to their ability to focus in the afternoon – just like it is with adults. Although adults may worry about students getting into trouble with free time, many students use lunch to socialize, catch up on homework or get extra help from teachers.

You can teach kids to eat just like you teach them to read

So says Karen Le Billon, in her book “French Kids Eat Everything.” She goes on to say, “The French believe—and have done scientific research—to prove you can teach your kids to eat just like you teach them to read,” she told Quartz. “Pediatricians give new parents detailed lists of what kids should be trying. Young children are expected to try pickled pig snouts. It’s soft, and healthy,” she said. “Taste training is part of the national curriculum and kids get tested in year four; they learn that science shows you need to try a new food many times before you like it. By the time kids get to school, stinky cheese is not going to scare anyone.”

Why am I talking about school lunches and eating habits in France, when this is America? Because popular opinion of late would have it, that kids in other countries, particularly France, are superior to American ones in many ways. I don’t buy that. There is no disputing that France and other countries have dramatically lower obesity rates than the United States, which they seem to accomplish by feeding their children Boeuf bourguignon and brie with a snack of bread and chocolate at 4pm every day.

The austere differences in school lunches provide some answers: French kids are given time to eat hot, four-course meals that include a wide range of cheeses and artisanal breads while New York City public schools kids race through versions of starch with cheese with an “eat your colors” campaign to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption. If France faces restrictions on how much ketchup can be served weekly, the US government has at various times tried to pass ketchup off as a vegetable.

In my opinion, no country’s children are superior over another’s. As for how they eat, that is a cultural issue. Europeans tend toward making eating a celebration of sorts. They take time to enjoy a meal with family or friends and to enjoy the fresh grown products of their local areas. Most products for these gatherings or dinners are home cooked with fresh products. The French have a word for food and company: “Commensality (la commensalité), which literally means ‘eating together in a group,” Le Billon writes. Americans have always viewed eating as a way to fuel the body to continue working. They never have taken the time to truly enjoy a meal. This trend dates back as far as America’s beginnings. Home cooking did prevail until the “Fast Food Boom” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, when Americans could eat out quickly and affordably. Following on the heels of fast food came processed foods. Not quite as healthy for you, but good enough to fill you up quickly and cheaply. The obesity epidemic had begun in America.

As early as the mid 1960’s articles were appearing in magazines regarding the obesity epidemic in America. Less and less Americans were eating at home and those who were, were using pre-prepared canned or frozen products of less healthy qualities (processed foods). American life was becoming more sedentary, but we were still rushing through meals and overeating because of the rush. Some Americans were eating healthy, but this group came, as in today’s society, from upper-middle income and above. Every child wasn’t entitled to at least two healthy, government regulated meals at school, so this became America’s dining culture.

Children emulate their role models, so the fast food culture spread to our children. We literally taught them to eat just like we teach them to read. They eat and read what they are readily exposed to on a daily basis. American or French, or Asian, or any other child for that matter identifies and prefers the foods they have become accustomed to eating on a regular basis. Unlike the French, we do not start nutrition education with our children from birth. We now wait until they start school, have developed food preferences, and then depend on our schools to rectify an almost unsolvable situation. This, as we are starting to see is causing hardships on school food programs. Just because we try to force them to eat healthier doesn’t means they will. Comparisons of a weekly school menu in France with one in New York City, show that most American kids wouldn’t identify with or even try the French fare.

Here’s what French kids in Paris 17th arrondissement (link in French) ate this week, compared to kids in New York City:
 Day  Paris  New York City 
Monday Artisanal baguette, pork rib in dijon sauce, turkey ham, mashed potatoes, emmental cheese, apple Stuffed cheesy bread, marinara sauce, spinach
Tuesday Artisanal baguette, green salad, salmon spaghetti, yogurt with fruit, apple compote Mac & Cheese, toasted garlic dinner roll, Brooklyn baked beans
Wednesday Fresh bread, cucumber salad with cream fraiche, veal sauteed in olives and broccoli, goat cheese, gâteau de semoule fait maison au caramel Avi’s Burger-ito, baked french fries, kale salad
Thursday Artisanal baguette, tomato, onion and coriander salad, organic beef sauteed in its juice with delicate green beans in parsley, fromage à pâte molle, pear Chicken & broccoli, veggie fried rice, crispy egg roll with duck sauce, fresh apple
Friday Artisanal baguette, omelette with potatoes, salad of carrots, tomatoes and corn, fromage à pâte fraiche, apple crumble Pizza (garden veggie), Jamaican Patty, fresh tomato salad

Some American kids would identify with the French cuisine as they already eat some of these items at home, but they are in the minority. If our nation, like the French, started influencing the eating habits of children from birth and in the home, instead of after the fact in school, we may start to see a distinct change in the eating culture of Americans over time. After all, it took a long time for this culture to develop, it will take time to change it again.

This may appear to be a drastic and prescriptive approach, but no more than the HHFKA guidelines are in school dining. If we truly want to make a difference then we need to be all in, not just for 1/16th of a child’s daily food experience. Until we take major steps to change the culture, alas, the American version of “Commensality (la commensalité) will continue to be “Miller Time.”

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

There has been a push in the last several years for cafeterias to offer healthier food options. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, passed new regulations in 2012 requiring more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in school cafeterias.

However, once the food is there, it’s up to patrons to make healthy choices when building a plate. A cafeteria can make a few simple changes to encourage these healthier choices.

How can things like rearranging food options, adding labels and information about options, and offering trays with small dishes make such a difference?

Know Your Patrons

First, it’s important to remember who will be going through the line in your cafeteria. In a middle school, children are likely to make decisions about food selection on their own.

Children and adults are drawn to different kinds of food and different displays, so encouraging healthy eating is different, depending on your patrons.

For example, a tactic used by grocery stores to encourage purchasing certain products is to place them at eye level. For children, this means that healthier options should be near the lower shelves, while adults are more likely to notice them on the middle shelves.

Children are also more likely to react to more colorful foods, and those that are well designed. For example, placing a sample dish with healthy, colorful options, and making a face on the plate might encourage children to mimic the display.

Adults, on the other hand, are less likely to be influenced by the way the food is designed, and prefer fewer foods and colors on their plates. However, making healthy food attractive and easy to see will encourage adults to select these items. Fresh, quality fruits and vegetables are bright and colorful on their own, so simply placing them in a visible area can encourage adult patrons to choose them.

Use Small Plates

One of the biggest issues that leads to unhealthy eating choices is portion size. Small plates fill up faster than large ones, which can encourage patrons to eat smaller portions or to choose fewer selections, ultimately, leading to healthier eating choices.

Put Healthy Options in High Traffic Areas

When a hungry patron comes into a cafeteria, they are most likely to fill their plate with the first things they notice. Placing healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in a high traffic area like the entrance to the cafeteria line will encourage more people to eat these foods.

Similarly, placing easy to grab health foods, like apples, bananas, or pears near the checkout counter – another high traffic area – is a great way to encourage patrons to select these items on their way out.

Add Labels and Descriptions

It is important to label all foods in a cafeteria, but the depth of the food descriptions can make a difference in whether or not the food is selected.

The name of the food should, of course, be the first thing on the label to help patrons recognize the food. The more descriptive the name, the more likely an adult patron is to select the food item.

Cafeterias that include health claims on food items may also find that those foods are selected more often, because the description encourages the patron to think about long term effects about what they’re eating now.

Offer Express Checkout

In public cafeterias, offering a healthy express checkout can be an incentive for patrons to fill their plates with healthy options. A checkout line may only serve patrons who are eating both fruits and vegetables, or who fill a certain portion of their plate with greens. Either way, this checkout line is reserved only for healthy eaters.

Hunger Free Vermont Calls UVM Survey Inaccurate

Written by Milt Miller – Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont, calls the recent study conducted by the University of Vermont (UVM) inaccurate and outdated. She (Ms. Parisi) states that the study was conducted only in spring semester 2012 and again in the spring of 2013, to show a before and after picture of what was happening the first year of the new guidelines. The study conducted by the University of Vermont, filmed what students were taking for lunch and also filmed what they were actually throwing into the trash. The study was conducted at two schools in Vermont during the spring semester of 2012 and again in the spring of 2013. Based on the dates the study was conducted and noting the fact that the results were published in 2015, yes the data is of a historical nature showing the results at the beginning of the guidelines implementation and the year after. Ms. Parisi said, “All of us working in the school nutrition and food security field were blindsided by a study published last week by University of Vermont researchers claiming that children were throwing out more fresh fruits and vegetables from their school lunches after an increase in nutrition requirements was implemented in the fall of 2012.” She further stated, “The new guidelines require a larger variety of fresh fruits and vegetables be served to children along with whole-grain-rich breads and pasta, lean proteins, and low-fat milk. The new guidelines also require children to take at least a small amount (one-half cup) of fruit and or vegetable on their tray to encourage them to eat these healthy foods. That was a big change for children and schools. As everyone who has ever tried to change their diet can attest, it takes time and creativity to make a lasting change.”

While I agree that the data released on fruit and vegetable consumption in schools was of a historical nature, the thought processes behind them were correct. It appears the researchers were questioning the sagacity of forcing students to take unwanted items which resulted in waste. The survey further stated that educational programming and serving fruits and vegetables in a manner more acceptable to students would improve upon these waste issues. The survey further pointed out that, patience, nutrition education, and time would solve these issues. As far as being blindsided by the study, unless you don’t have any contact with the media, one should be aware of the issue as it has been bandied since the guidelines implementation. The SNA has published this issue at least twice in its position papers. Medical journals nationwide have discussed this issue. Blog posts on this issue go online every day, how can this survey’s results be considered as blindsiding?

Ms. Parisi went on to state that, “It has taken time, patience, and encouragement, but across the board both locally and nationally school nutrition staff and advocates have seen increased consumption of fruits and vegetables in our schools. There are now many more opportunities for farm-to-school programming, and Sen. Patrick Leahy has co-sponsored the Farm to School Act of 2015 to significantly increase grant funding for schools to expand their farm-to-school activities. Thanks to the perseverance and dedication of school food service personnel, healthier, fresher, and often local food is now being consumed by children in school cafeterias every day.” Consumed by or being served to children in school cafeterias every day? That is the big question and the heart of this issue as I see it.

The UVM survey said there was improvement and this improvement would continue over time. The Harvard School of Public Health survey sited by Ms. Parisi, stated that “students were taking more fruit and actually eating more vegetables put on their tray.” Of course they are taking more fruit it is mandatory that they do. They are eating or trying more vegetables, which shows improvement, but there is still an issue with the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables being wasted. Ms. Parisi claims that the UVM survey was only conducted at two Vermont schools, but she doesn’t mention that the Harvard survey only included 2,200-3,000 students (about the same amount) and was also conducted in one state like the Vermont survey. What gives the Harvard survey more credibility in providing data reflecting a national trend in school food? Could it be the manner in which the actual data was presented by each survey? Surveys can and are made to say anything by manipulating the data or only asking certain questions. The fact is we have two surveys with inner related findings that indicate, that while consumption is increasing, there is still waste above what is deemed an acceptable or normal industry amount. Let’s fix the problem and stop looking for surveys to prove one side or the other’s point.

I am an advocate for child nutrition and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act for the most part. I believe, and all surveys that I am familiar with and I have seen many studies that show, providing more choices of fresh fruits and vegetables, placing them strategically to facilitate making healthier choices, and educating students about good nutrition, in time will win the day. This point has been shown to be true by both the Harvard and the BEN studies mentioned by Ms. Parisi. Forcing students to take items they do not want results in waste. Do they take more of these items than before, when they weren’t forced to do so? Yes. Does this cause waste and increased plate cost? Yes. If students are trying the fresh vegetables we make them take, this is a step in the desired direction. Is waste still an issue resulting in excess food cost? Yes.

Instead of admitting that yes there are some areas of concern that need to be addressed, we deny the issues and vilify anyone seeking reform. We accuse them of trying to trash the entire program when all they are asking for is compromise on issues that are causing school programs financial and participation declines. “Members of Congress are just as guilty of not co-operating, posturing themselves between the budget and the needs of America’s children. Is the entire issue totally about party politics? Will there always be waste in the food industry? Yes. Is the level we are currently at in this program an acceptable level? No. Are students struggling to adapt to the new tastes and textures? Yes. Are nutrition education and more nutritious food choices necessary for our children’s future well-being? Yes. Why can’t we just work together to solve the problem. Is compromise dead in America? You tell me. An overwhelming amount of data indicates that the greatest strides toward good nutrition have been with younger children, who will grow up seeing no real differences and being more acceptable to the changes. In the end better health through making healthy food choices will be the norm.

I witness compromise produce a win-win situation every time I visit my daughter. She has two young sons, one readying for preschool the other readying to walk. The oldest eats anything that doesn’t out run him and the second, while a healthy eater has some reservations. My daughter believes in exposing her children to fresh, nutritious, healthy foods. The boys are both learning to make healthy food choices due to this exposure at home. They both do not always eat their fruits and vegetables at meal time. Rather than fight, my daughter uses fruits and vegetables as snacks. She doesn’t force them to take or eat what they don’t want and everybody gets what they need in the end. Compromise. The youngest son has an aversion to fresh steamed peas. If they are not presented to him with the texture he desires he spits them across the table. No matter how many times you put them in his mouth you get the same result. Does she keep shoveling them in and telling everyone at the table he really is eating them it just appears like he is not? No, she found another brand of peas he prefers over her homemade ones, just as nutritious, and now he eats them. Compromise. I have learned a great deal about how children respond to being forced to take something they don’t want to eat, by watching my grandsons. I see that forcing them results in waste. I also see that exposure to nutritious foods in the

home plays a major role in developing healthy eating habits in children, but that discussion is for another day.

I realize that my survey on child nutritional behaviors has a data set of only two and would not be credible to Ms. Parisi, but it seems to confirm the results found in the other surveys I have mentioned. I sometimes wonder how people lose their observation skills after they have raised their children. I also wonder if all of the child nutrition gurus’ force fed their children fresh fruits and vegetables. Did they tether them to a chair and stuff them with green leafy vegetables and exotic fruits, or did they expose them to nutritious food, educate them on making healthy choices, and hope for the best like the rest of us?

For the implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, I must say thank you Michelle Obama. This was a much needed change in this country. Are there flaws? Yes, but not so many it needs to be scrapped, just softened a bit to make it more palatable to all involved. I hope when Congress resumes sessions they fix the bugs and leave the basic principles alone. I don’t quite understand all of the fighting, posturing, and finger pointing that surrounds this issue. Make healthy choices more readily available and more student friendly, soften some policies to eliminate waste and increase participation, increase federal reimbursements to off-set increased food costs, and last, but certainly not least, consider what children want to eat instead of telling them what they must eat. Perhaps some compromise and Common Sense.

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com.

Help your students choose healthier lunch options with pre-order

When you were growing up, there was probably only one option for school lunch. Now, with many different dietary needs, and new laws encouraging whole grains as well as more servings of fruit and vegetables, cafeterias are a very different place. Schools offer a variety of choices, and have developed many different methods of encouraging students to choose healthier options. The most powerful is pre-ordering their lunches.

Student Benefits

We know that a lot of adults don’t make great food choices when they’re already hungry; why do we expect students to do better? Schools in New York found that when they let students choose their lunch at the beginning of the day, almost a third of them chose a healthier entree, as opposed to just 15 percent when they had to choose in line.

When students choose healthier lunches, here’s what we know:

  • They’re more focused and attentive in class
  • They have fewer disciplinary issues
  • They spend less time in line and more time eating their lunches
  • They learn to choose healthier foods as parents support them in making good choices
  • They get to take on independence as parents feel they’re ready for it

Parent Benefits

How well does your child relay what happened at school? When you pre-order your child’s lunch choices with them, you gain insight into what they’re eating at school. You can also:

  • Keep track of what your child is spending their lunch money on, keeping your family budget on track
  • Know that your child is getting a healthy and complete lunch, without the time consuming preparation of making lunch at home
  • Start conversations around healthy foods, and why good food choices are important

School Benefits

When kids pre-order lunch, lunch programs and managers are able to do a more exact job of planning what foods to prepare.

This means that:

  • They reduce waste and have more dollars to spend on foods students love
  • They can plan ahead, building on popular and healthy choices to offer even better options
  • They can be a partner in protecting students from the challenges of obesity and discipline issues

Pre-ordering lunch benefits everyone, from your child, to their school lunch program, to the entire district. It helps you be a part of encouraging your children to make healthy choices, and it supports the goals and values that you share at home.

If your school offers pre-ordering, find out how to get your child involved! If they don’t, contact your school lunch program to find out how this important service can be offered! Pre-ordering school lunches offers a clear benefit to kids and schools alike.

Better Food Safety through Technology

Written by Milt Miller – As food service technology advances into the future, the ability to pre-order meals on-line will become increasingly more important. Food allergies are on the rise among school aged students. Anaphylaxis is the number one cause of death involving foods in young adults. As the number of young people with food allergies continues to grow, concerned parents and school administrators are searching for ways to make serving them safer. Our northern neighbors in Canada, appear to be leading the fight for developing rules and protocols making school and university food operations safer for students with food allergies. Sabrina’s law was, passed after the death of a thirteen year old, who had an anaphylactic incident at school during lunch. It is designed to protect students with food allergies by making sure all school boards have policies in place that address anaphylaxis. Allowing students and parents to select and order a meal ahead of time could provide staff ample time to prepare a safe and allergy free meal. Pre-ordering technology can assist in making school lunch safer.

Menus are posted on line allowing parents to see the nutritional make up of school food offerings. Meal monies can be paid in advance and budgeted by how many times a week a student will purchase breakfast or lunch. Reports are generated permitting parents to see what their students are actually purchasing and they can control what they purchase on line in real time. Student food allergy information appears on the cashier’s screen to insure student safety.

I am familiar with at least one school software company, which is already providing parents and students with the ability to pre-order menu items. Currently, what I have seen in this development process, is the ability to order single menu items ahead on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Pre-ordering of this nature would provide parents with the option to plan their child’s meals and avoid the confusion experienced by young children in a cafeteria line, when forced to make choices. At the middle and high school levels pre-ordering would allow meals to be picked up at a specific area and cut down on time standing in line. However, with a bit of tweaking, the ability to pre-order an entire allergy free, reimbursable meal is also available with this system. What a relief this could turn out to be for parents and school food professionals alike.

Parents would be able to pick allergen free meal choices that could be pre-ordered for their students. What a bonus that would be, especially at the K-5 level, to insure that safe meals would be served to their children on a regular basis, without having to worry about what they are actually choosing. School food workers would be able to produce these items first in an allergen free atmosphere, know what special products are needed, and insure that each child is getting safe meals. Whew!! What a relief as a parent and as a school food professional.

There is now the ability to post menus on-line listing which of the six major allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, lactose, gluten, eggs, and shell fish, are not present in the dish. There can also be low carbohydrate and high protein meals for children with diabetes. By utilizing this technology parents could safely make choices for their young students. The students could pick up their meals in a special area, as they would have been made ahead. What more could one ask for food safety and efficiency? Older students could pre-order these allergy free, safe meals and pick them up in a designated area too. Operators would know in advance what products were needed and how much to order, what a benefit. I have spoken with college food providers recently, who are exploring the same type of process to effectively deal with food allergies. As we move forward allergies will not be going away and the need to deal with them will continue to increase. Better labeling and packaging only go so far. Anaphylaxis is the leading killer in food bourn issues involving students of all ages.

I see a need to grow in the future to provide safe allergy free pre-ordering options. Several companies are on the cusp of making this pre-order option a reality and at least one is already making this technology available. I believe this is a major breakthrough not only for safety, but also for speed of service and production efficiency. What do you think?

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com