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School Lunch (Part 1) : Do You Know What Is In Your School Lunch?

I honestly had never thought about this question “Do You Know What Is In Your School Lunch?”, and I was surprised when I found out the answer. A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference held in Denver, Colorado.  The purpose of this annual conference is for school cafeterias nationwide to sample healthy new foods, innovative recipes, and learn methods and tips to strengthen their school meal programs. Two bloggers and I were able to experience this tasty conference ourselves and learn about school lunch nutrition.

I went into this experience with little expectations because I wasn’t 100% what to expect in the first place. I knew that the topic was that of our school lunch nutrition and a new legislation. What I took out of this was amazing information that has changed my way of thinking about school lunches. In fact it has motivated me to want to learn more about our own lunch program here in my county. I was very fortunate to be under the wing of an amazing woman Mary Kate Harrison the General Manger of Student Nutrition Services in Hillsborough County. I could tell that Mary Kate takes pride in her job and makes it her mission to feed our children healthy yet tasty food while still staying within a budget.

If you looked at your school menu and saw pizza, chicken nuggets, Asian food, Cuban food, etc. what would you think? You would probably wonder why we are feeding our children such junk food. Yes the menu usually includes veggies and fruits but we know our children usually go for the main dish and push those veggies aside. Would you be surprised if I told you that the majority of these foods are more then likely made with healthy ingredients. That a piece of pizza isn’t your typical Dominos or Pizza Hut pizza?

One of the biggest changes in nutrition standards in the National School Lunch Program is taking place this very school year.

USDA’s New Meal Plan (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, effective July 2012.

  • Establishes maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals (sodium limits are phased in over 10 years)
  • Requires schools to serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables. Students must take at least one fruit or vegetable serving per meal. Schools must offer dark green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week.
  • Within two years of implementation, all grains offered to students must be whole grain-rich.
  • Requires milk to be 1% or nonfat (flavored milk must be nonfat).
  • Schools must eliminate added trans-fat. Less then 10% of calories can come from saturated fat.

I absolutely LOVE LOVE that schools are being required to start phasing out white grains and switch to whole grain-rich food. I am such a firm believer that whole grains are healthy and really help control appetite. One of the first company’s Mary Kate introduced me to was The Schwan Food Company and Pat McCoy, Vice President of Sales. Pat was amazing and full of energy and you could tell he was excited to share with me his story. Pat walked me through the process in which he and Mary Kate went through to create a pizza that was not only healthy but appealing to the kids. I had no idea how important each element was and as they explained it I could only think what an amazing job the two of them have, and how excited they are about it.

Mary Kate explained to Pat that she need a pizza that was healthy, but also one kids would WANT to eat. Basically give me pizza delivery pizza, with added health benefits. The Schwan Food Company created a pizza with whole grain crust and low sodium pizza sauce and instead of the usual “school squares” he created a round pizza, to mimic delivery pizza. After some back and forth it was then discussed that the pizza was meeting the health standards but the employees had no way of cutting the pieces evenly. One would think that was not a big deal in less that one has more then one child, then they know EVEN is a huge deal. Equality is important among children.  So Schwan’s then created a metal pizza cutter that is placed over the pizza and pressed to cut each piece into equal pieces. The pizza I saw on the floor looked like a pizza I would find in a cardboard box delivered right to my door. Exactly what Mary Kate was after. She wanted a pizza that when kids saw coming from the oven, or back door and served up to them looked like the school was serving pizza from the local pizzeria down on the corner. This pizza is currently served in many of the schools across the country.

I was so amazed by what goes into school lunches the thought, the planning, every little detail, that I forgot to take a lot of photos. I did manage to snap a few photos of some food that at first glance thought there was no way this was an average school lunch. However that is what the vendors at the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference were presenting. They were there to show you how they have taken the new standards and meet the requirements with their healthy yet appetizing and appealing foods and try to convince you to use their product in the National School Lunch Program.

We saw drink vendors, vegetables, themed food like Asian and Cuban. We saw an amazing apple slicer that I would love to have in my own home however it was industrial size and really would not match my decor. The experience was amazing and I learned more in that one day about what my children will be served this year then I have in all my years of having children in the school system.

Please look forward to another post coming soon with more fun information on how these recipes are created and “who” are the judges of such food.

Were you surprised to learn about the new standards in the school lunch program? Does your child partake in school lunches? After reading this post what are your thoughts about your child eating school lunches?

Disclaimer: My traveling expenses and trip to the conference was paid for by the representing pr agency. Opinions are my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. You may read more of my disclosure here.

About Colleen Shibley

Colleen Shibley Mother to 3 kids, wife to an awesome & thoughtful husband, beach lover, book reader, working woman by day, and blogger by night. Blogging from sunny South Florida passionate about travel, good food, entertainment, and enjoying family time...[Read More...]


  1. I wish we had lunches like that when I was in school.

  2. One of the best ways that schools can make their food healthier for students is to serve whole grains! There is so much more fiber in whole grains, and I believe taste so much better than the white products!

  3. Sherry Compton says:

    Love the idea but hope it doesn’t go to far. I love that schools are having to pay attention to fat content and adding fruits and veggies. I want kids to still be able to have treats and sugary/fatty items sometimes but to realize that main meals need to be nutritious. We eat not just to satisfy but to be healthy. So happy schools are now addressing this.

  4. I am amazed. I have to look into what they serve here in Texas.The kids food is always so stale and even if its a burger, you will see a majority of kids throw their food out. But the food you’ve photographed does look good!

  5. jennie hosselkus says:

    I appreciate your positive blog on a very important subject. I have been in school nutrition for 24 years and I have always done my best to feed the children healthy, nutritious meals. There is always some waste in school lunch because, as you said if you have more than one child, you can’t please everyone all the time. The new nutrional guidelines have been a headache this year for myself and my co-workers but we having been working very hard to make menus that are not only nutrious but also that the kids will want to eat. As we were told in our state convention this summer, “we will have happy garbage cans this year, because the kids will just not eat everything that is expected to go on their trays.”

  6. I really enjoyed your write up! I also attended the SNA show. The energy was great. It’s so fun & refreshing to see new menu items. Definitely a step in the right direction.

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