If you are the parent of a school-age child or a teacher or school administrator, you may be happy to learn that food service management is going in some new directions these days. While many schools still have a long way to go, some are paving the way to more nutritious and diverse meals. Read on to learn about new trends in school food service that your district might want to adopt too.
There are hundreds of schools in the New York City district, so it's not surprising that kids in some institutions would have different dietary practices than others. At PS 244 in Queens, also known as The Active Learning Elementary School (TALES), 86% of the student body is Asian-American. Many students were bringing vegetarian bag lunches to school, because their cultural and religious upbringing did not include the practice of eating meat.
Public School 244 ultimately became the first US public school to serve a vegetarian menu to respond to the needs of its students. They even sometimes offer vegan menus today. Other American schools have followed suit, and now New York's Peck Slip School M 343 and the San Diego Unified School District are among the many that also provide vegetarian options.
Conferences That Address Nutrition Over the Bottom Line
The decision at PS 244 couldn't have been made without conferences like that held in the spring of 2015 at Harvard University. There, food service professionals and school personnel met to discuss all aspects of providing nutritious meals for children in grades K-12.
The high point of the conference for many was guest speaker Ann Cooper, a school food activist from Colorado, who raised many issues that are achieving greater importance at such meetings:
- the need for increased funding for school nutrition
- how the presence of a garden at every school can increase nutritional awareness and provide fresh produce
- the possibility of including nutrition and food literacy in every school's core curriculum
Foods That Meet Religious Restrictions
Another concern that has gained national attention is the inclusion of special foods for specific religious diets, above and beyond just vegetarianism. In the Detroit Public School System and surrounding communities, there is a high proportion of Muslim students. Like in New York, it was discovered that many kids were not eating meals prepared by the school due to religious conflicts with its preparation.
However, in Michigan, because a large number of these students were on the free and reduced lunch program, they weren't bringing food from home; they were just going hungry. The answer was to start providing Halal foods that are approved by the Muslim religion, in addition to regular menus, so that the majority of students are getting what they need to stay fed at breakfast and lunch.
As you can see, sometimes it takes attention, creativity, and action to make school meals work better for both nutritional and cultural needs. If your school district needs help providing healthier or more appropriate food for its children, maybe you can be the catalyst of change to start making improvements.