I just got back from the conference. I added a School Nutritional Association Conference Photo Gallery and will be answering your questions shortly. I learned SO VERY much!
School Lunches - School Nutrition - Page 3
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One thing at our school is there is still alot of processed foods. And after we parents started raising a stink, they are now plating the meals for the kids to make sure that each and every kid gets what they are supposed to get ON thier trays. They kids kept insisting the cafe was running out of food, and just not giving it to them, OR they were supposed to pick up thier sides at another table. Alot of kids were just taking the main meals, and bypassing the sides. At first the school was saying it was to prevent waste, but we later realized it was because they kids didn't KNOW, or the cafe people didn't refil the sides after they emptied. We are holding them extremly accountable when school starts up in Sept and there NEEDS to be some changes made.
There are definitely options out there that don't include processed food. Every district is different, and a lot of it falls on the shoulders of your food service director to make choices. I'd call her and make your concerns know. Do you have a parent involvement group to help make those decisions? Each district should also have a wellness policy, and parents are invited to participate in the decisions going into those policies. One idea I heard about is a district that brings in parental "food coaches" to assist in the lunch lines to ensure that kids are taking what they should be taking and making good choices.
Mostly I would like more suggestions on healthy meals that can be prepared inexpensively (like the school not losing money!) and in large quantities that kds will actually eat. I am very interested in any info you get that I can take back to my school. We have been working, offering healthier choices then your typical school lunch, but it is a challenge to keep the costs low enough.
Many national brands are working with schools to develop recipes that don't cost a lot and yet still meet nutritional requirements. Do you know if your food service director was at the conference? There were so many ideas there it would be hard to list them all here. One trend I heard about is not making protein the main part of the meal. Barilla, for example, offers bulk pricing on their "Barilla Plus" pasta that includes protein in it. Kids are getting their protein at a lower price than if they were serving meat. One idea I heard was joining a food cooperative with other school districts to negotiate bulk pricing. This is going on in the Twin Cities. Maybe your school district can join that cooperative.
School lunches are not what they used to be. I didn't see any pink slime there! LOL