3 ways schools are redefining mealtime

(BPT) – What’s the most important part of a child’s school day? Is it math? Reading? History? How about lunch? Research shows that children who eat breakfast and lunch are more attentive, have a better attendance rate and ultimately do better in school. But getting children to partake in school meal programs is a challenge on its own, and with changes in government regulations, schools, working together with food companies, find themselves working to meet a new set of principles.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 changed regulations around what could and could not be offered for school lunch. Grains are now required to be at least 50 percent whole grain, sodium levels must be reduced, and cafeterias are required to offer an increased number of fruit and vegetable options.

All of this supports a healthier lifestyle, but it leaves schools and food companies with a new challenge — getting kids to eat what is offered.

To comply with new federal guidelines and still create meals that students enjoy, schools across the country are employing solutions like the following:

* Starting right. Schools understand the importance of healthy breakfast to jump-start learning. Some schools are using to-go items with protein-packed ingredients like Cargill’s Sunny Fresh individually packaged egg and cheese whole-grain wraps. These portable meals are offered to kids as they walk off the bus. For many students, this is their first meal of the day. Secondary schools are finding success appealing to older students by offering new omelet stations to encourage students to eat a healthy breakfast.

* Lowering the sodium. As part of the 2010 act, schools are looking for ways to lower sodium in their menu offerings and still provide meals kids enjoy. For example, many schools are incorporating a new line of turkey deli meats that are lower in sodium, taste great and are grown on family farms without growth-promoting antibiotics and verified by the USDA. This small change ensures a popular cafeteria staple remains on the menu for students in the future, delivering the nutrition they need.

* Increased transparency. More focus is being placed on the origins of school lunch ingredients. Because of that, schools and food companies are working to increase transparency for students, parents and community members alike.

“We work with schools to share information about the farmers who provide the foods used in school lunches so people get to know the story behind the food they eat,” said Suzanne McCarty, business development director for Cargill Foodservice. “We know kids and parents increasingly want to understand the journey of their food from farm to fork.”

Going forward

“It is important to partner with food companies as we work to meet the demands of feeding our students,” says Joanne Kinsey, director of school nutrition services for Chesapeake Public Schools. “We all share in the same mission of providing our students quality, nutritious food that tastes good.”

To learn more about how schools and food companies are working to improve school lunches, contact your local school or visit cargill.com/products/foodservice.

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