Both parents and school administrators alike depend on the school's lunch program to serve foods that meet the nutritional needs of growing children while also appealing to the student's taste and appetite. When children eat a healthy lunch, they tend to be more attentive in class and may exhibit less behavioral problems. And given that school lunches may provide up to 50% of a child's calorie intake for the day, finding ways to deliver healthier school lunches is a priority for many school districts.
To reach institutional lunch service goals for nutritional content with a variety of menu options and appropriate serving size or portion controls - on a limited budget (which is estimated to be approximately $1.30 per student in the US)- can seem exasperating.
Here are four ways school nutrition programs can deliver healthier school lunches that not only encourage children towards nutritious options but also inspires changes in the way school lunch programs are managed.
1. Change the Presentation of Fruits and Vegetables
There are a number of ways school chefs can incorporate more vegetables into dishes, without the students even noticing. Cauliflower Mac & Cheese and Spiralized Zucchini Spaghetti are just two options.
Food presentation can be colorful, such as a "healthy foods" bar that entices children to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. The same with a yogurt bar where fresh fruits serve as toppings, or a smoothie bar that serves a delicious puréed fruit, fruit juice, and yogurt mix.
There are many ways to get creative with vegetables that also prove to be more nutritious for children. For example, serving roasted fresh vegetables instead of their boiled or steamed versions are more appetizing to older students.
2. Serve Fresh, Locally-Grown Foods
Most students recognize the community benefits of buying and eating food that is grown locally. When cafeterias feature local foods on the menu, they can reduce the amount of frozen or processed food products being served. It can also be a way to reduce costs because the school is skipping several distribution channels or middlemen costs when buying directly from the source.
Let the students know when menus are featuring foods that were sourced locally and advertise the benefits of local foods that are fresher and picked at its peak ripeness for better taste and more nutrients.
3. Provide Longer Lunch Breaks
Lunchtime should be valued as a time for both eating and providing some downtime for students. Longer lunch breaks are proven to be healthier over a rushed lunch period. Students eat more when they have the time to casually eat their lunch. Here are some statistics gathered when students were given less than 20 minutes to eat their lunch:
- Students ate 13% less of their entrée
- Drank 10% less of their milk
- Consumed 12% less of their vegetables
4. Install the Right Kitchen Equipment
If the school's kitchen equipment is outdated and lacks the technology features that can save time, materials, and labor - it will be more difficult to provide fresher menu selections with a variety of food choices for finicky eaters. K-12 food service requires equipment that not only prepares food faster but can also help offer foods using 95% less fat.
The RATIONAL Combi is the perfect option for a commercial oven that can bake, steam, grill, roast, fry, poach, and much more - in a single, self-cleaning unit. Your kitchen staff will have limitless options to produce food of exceptional quality in less time and using less energy than traditional commercial ovens or steamers.
To overcome the negative nutritional value of fried foods that students love, including french fries, onion rings, chicken strips, and fish patties - the RATIONAL Combi allows your staff to serve crisp foods, juicy meats, and colorful vegetables that contain more of their vitamins and minerals and less fat.