“School Lunch Across The USA” is the theme of National School Lunch Week being observed the week of October 14-18, all across our nation. On behalf of the men and women who work for the Valparaiso Community Schools Child Nutrition Services we appreciate the opportunity to serve the students. Our employees take pride in planning menus, preparing, serving and delivering nutritious meals to hungry children. Nutrition Services is proud to be a part of a school system that is known for its quality education. Good nutrition and good education goes hand in hand. Well nourished children have higher test scores, better school attendance and fewer classroom behavior problems. In the cafeteria we are making strong efforts to enhance the well being of students by adding to their overall nutrition and creating healthy eating habits. Research shows that knowledge and skills children learn today help them choose healthier foods tomorrow and into adulthood. Whether kids are grabbing breakfast before school or choosing a snack after sports practice, now is the time to start learning to make healthy choices.
The National School Lunch Program has faced many mandated changes over the past few years. All schools are required to follow the Dietary Guidelines for America, which recommend that not more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat and less than 10 percent come from saturated fat. Regulations also say school lunches must provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories. A school lunch includes five food components: meat/meat alternate, fruit, vegetable, grains/bread and milk. A student may choose three, four, or all five components to have a reimbursable meal. Students must choose a fruit or vegetable.
Manufacturers are also making great strides to reformulate food products that the students will accept. We offer foods that the students are familiar with like pizza with whole grain crust and low fat cheese, whole grain pasta dishes and baked chicken nuggets. All of our foods and vegetables are baked or steamed. We have increased the serving sizes of fruits and vegetables and offer legumes/beans weekly. Self serve lines give students the opportunity to choose their own fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t end with extra fruits and vegetables, though. We watch portion size, sodium and much more.
Our goal is not only to engage the kids to take advantage of school meals but to reach parents. This generation of young people is the first that is forecast to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The prevalence of overweight children among 6 to 11 years olds has doubled in the past 20 years and tripled for teens. Parents, take an active role in encouraging your children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A healthy lifestyle is a combination of good nutrition and daily physical activity. Students that eat well and are physically fit, sleep well, feel better and are productive through the school day. Children are our future and in Valparaiso Community Schools we do what is best for “Kids."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.