Proper nutrition is essential to a growing child’s development. Students spend an average of 180 days at school, meaning the meals consumed on campus significantly impact their healthy lives. Also, as many children across the US have both breakfast and lunch at school, it is essential that they have access to healthy and delicious food options. “Nutritious school meals give America’s children the foundation for successful, healthy lives,” said Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press statement earlier this year.
Research shows that school children most often receive their healthiest meals of the day at school. As a result, school nutrition standards were updated in 2010 with meal requirements emphasizing whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products; while limiting sodium and unhealthy fats. This was the first time in 15 years that nutrition standards were updated with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
This past fall, it was announced that even more improvements must be made to school lunches over the next two school years. Chocolate milk drinkers rejoice; schools may now offer flavored low-fat milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk. In addition, at least of 80% of the grains served at breakfast and lunch must be considered rich in whole grains, which is the saddest thing to happen to sliced bread in decades. Finally, by the 2023-2024 school year, the weekly sodium limits for breakfast and lunch must be decreased by 10%.
School meal programs are linked with classroom improvements and student test scores. Students participating in school breakfast programs have improved attendance, behavior, and academic performance. Being provided healthy, well-balanced meals while growing up will fuel their bodies and brains and set them up to make wise food choices in the future when they have to make those choices themselves.
Currently, one in five children between 6 and 19 suffers from obesity. Ensuring students consume healthier meals at least once a day is a great way to combat this statistic. This is also an excellent opportunity to teach students about proper nutrition, and that healthy food can still be delicious! For example, sweet potato fries cooked in an oven, like the Ovention MiLO are a better choice than French fries deep-fried in oil.
The creativity of school food programs that understand what works well for their students while meeting these nutritional requirements will be crucial. While reimagining the food served in your school cafeteria, explore options to make your kitchen more efficient. For example, Goshen High School feeds about 1,000 students daily for lunch. They discovered that baking pizzas in an Ovention Shuttle instead of their traditional convection oven allowed them to cook a pizza in two and a half minutes vs. 12-14 minutes. This is a huge time saver when you’re serving that many students a day!
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