More changes coming to school lunch

Lindsey Davis/Staff Writer

An ideal school lunch for most adolescents includes greasy pizza, salty chips and a soda to top it all off. But with all the changes made to school meals in the last few years, it’s impossible to think these bloat-inducing foods will ever make a comeback in public schools.

The trend is definitely turning toward healthier options. For instance, most foods offered for lunch are now made with whole wheat. This makes the food a little less delicious, but is a healthier option. Although many schools have made the change to whole wheat foods, lunches are still not as healthy and fulfilling as they should be.

The Cedar Falls school district will be hiring a new superintendent and food service director in the coming year. With these new people comes hope for better, healthier school lunches.

First of all, look at all the healthy improvements made so far to lunches in the last few years. LaVonne Arndt, the Cedar Falls School District’s food service supervisor, has played a large role in these changes.

“Cedar Falls has been serving whole grains over the last few years. We have tried to approach this change gradually. Whole grain taste is something students were not used to. We currently use whole grain buns, bread, cookies, pasta, rice, etc. We have increased the amount of fruits and vegetables offered each day along with different ones that not all students have experienced before. Also, we have added more legumes to the menu,” Arndt said.

The Obama administration is currently working on new rules for school lunches. They are pushing for a separate starches “group” such as potatoes, corn and peas, which schools would be limited from serving too many times. Fruits and veggies would be based on color so more red vegetables and leafy greens would need to be served. The amount of these fruits and veggies offered would almost double. What would this mean exactly for Cedar Falls?

“The biggest change our students will notice will be the amount of fruits and vegetables offered, and a number of them will be dark green or orange. There will also be more legumes,” Arndt said.

It is not a stretch to say that many students will welcome these changes to their school meals. Eating healthy is a lifestyle, and if school lunches can cater to these nutritious habits, more students may invest in a hot lunch.

An incredible school lunch success story comes from not too far down the road. Kelly Crossley, formerly the Independence School District food service director, single-handedly changed the entire meal system around. She increased the amount of fruits and veggies and found healthy substitutes to everyday favorites. At the time of her leaving the district, the Independence food service program had a surplus of $20,000, no easy feat.

“My motivation for these changes was on a more personal level. I eat healthy, and I didn’t like how much processed food was being served in Independence when I started,” Crossley said. “There was also not enough produce being served. My cooks didn’t like it either and were willing to start doing more from scratch. They were all good cooks, but weren’t being asked to cook like they wanted to.”

The process of making these drastic improvements took place over the course of two to three years. Making better “homecooked” meals for an entire district takes a lot more than a good cook. Crossley notes that translating a recipe from 10 servings to 300 is tricky, so a lot of trial and error occurred. After she had the backing of food staff, Crossley wanted to make sure the students and teachers were on board.

“We had to take steps to introduce new vegetables and fruit to kids, like sampling the new items in the classroom. We asked the teachers to talk about the menu in their classrooms, so the kids would be prepared when they saw the new item at lunch. With the local food that we served, we put signs out that let everyone know the food was local and the name of the farm/farmer who grew it,” Crossley said.

Crossley points out that healthier food items can’t be an instant success. She learned to be persistent and take success a little at a time. Having a delicious and nutritious lunch every day carries one major problem: money. Most food programs are run on extremely tight budgets because they are independent of the school’s budget and must provide for themselves.
The freshest of produce is not cheap, therefore many schools can’t provide this. With the hard work of Crossley, Independence was able to turn their food system around which allowed for money to be spent on fresh produce and other healthy foods.

If schools can budget so that they could allow for locally grown foods, not only would lunches be much more fulfilling, but the community’s well-being would be boosted.
“I think that more effort should be made by all of us to purchase our produce locally, whenever we can. It just makes sense. The produce is better tasting and higher in nutrients because it is picked when it’s ripe. The money we spend stays in our community and there is less of a carbon footprint since the food travels such a short distance to get to us. We are sustaining the livelihood of someone in our own community,” Crossley said.

So what is holding so many schools back from buying locally? Again, it’s the money issue. But Crossley shows that it is possible to entirely shift a food program around.
The changes she helped make in Independence are truly incredible. Cedar Falls now has the opportunity to hire a new food service director who could bring about great improvements to school lunches.

Crossley suggests students should have the largest voices over this issue, since they are the ones eating the food five days a week. School meals are complained about constantly, but with new ideas and persistent directors, they can change for the better.

Class of 2014

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