Healthy school lunches face tough taste test

Districts struggle to meet new USDA guidelines for meals and snacks.

GAINESVILLE, Ga.—Students in Gainesville, Georgia, are likely eating a better lunch than you today. On the menu in their cafeterias? Chicken salad on a bed of spinach with strawberries and Mandarin oranges. Boneless wings. Brunch for lunch.

Roughly 76% of students in Gainesville City Schools qualify for free or reduced-cost meals under the National School Lunch Program. Since the program's nutritional guidelines went into place in 2012, school administrators have been getting creative with their food program to create meals children like.

"Taste testing is where it's at," said Penny Fowler, the district's director of school nutrition. "They're your customers. It's like running a business."

Fowler said her team has worked hard to implement the new guidelines, which are entering a third school year this fall. The ultimate goal is to reduce childhood obesity, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in 30 years.

Gone are the days of mystery meats and grilled cheese on white bread. Instead, participating schools in the federal lunch program are required to serve skim or low-fat milk, add more whole grains, include a fruit and vegetable at each meal and prepare food with zero grams of trans fat per serving. Calorie and sodium limitations are also in place.

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
business ladder climbing illustration

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky.

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and...

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

Ideas and Innovation
woman surprise

When I joined the staff at FoodService Director in the spring of 2015, I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn about the intricacies of the industry. My past experience, from kindergarten to my college days to on-the-job meals, would lead me to believe that noncommercial dining was a kind of automated process—an amenity that’s expected, and one you only become aware of if something goes wrong.

But as with my own household chores, there are no magical elves making sure the business of feeding students, seniors and hospital patients is done, and done well. Foodservice...

Ideas and Innovation
elderly old hands

A family’s request for at-home meal support for a patient at Lee Memorial in Fort Myers, Fla., led System Director of Food & Nutrition Services Larry Altier to uncover a gap in care. He saw that only 1% of patients had been coded (diagnosed and labeled for billing purposes) as malnourished, while more than 60% of all Lee Memorial patients are over 65 years or older, a population that experiences the issue at a higher rate.

His discovery helped more rigorously identify malnutrition, but it also strengthened Lee Memorial’s community connection. The hospital launched a delivery...

FSD Resources