Bigger produce helpings on the menu for school foodservice

With new meal pattern, the amount of required fruits and vegetables has grown.

Feb. 16—One in three kids nationwide is considered overweight and La Crosse county in Wisconsin is no exception.

First lady Michelle Obama recently announced new standards for school meals across the nation, but some of the changes are already happening in the La Crosse School District.

Schools across the nation are supposed to gradually implement the first lady's new standards over the next five years. The La Crosse School district actually already started making some changes to its meal options this past September.

With the school year half over, school officials are now working to make sure next year's menu will be even better. For the 2012-2013 school-year, the new standards require students to get bigger serving portions of those fruits and vegetables, and all grains on the menu will only be whole grains.

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On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

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We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

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We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

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Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

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