Ala carte options

I heard and observed many good things about the new school lunches when I ate at three different middle schools. These include:

  • students had several options for fruits and vegetables
  • students served themselves so they could put the amount they wanted on their tray
  • the food tasted good and the kids told me they liked the food
  • the food is generally healthier

What about portion size?

Calorie ranges for school lunch

(Calories can be averaged over the week.)

Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day
Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day
Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day

The biggest concern about school lunch seems to be the portion size. The portions are based on nutrition guidelines for average children. For the first time, there are limits on the calories that can be served at meals based on students’ ages. The new guidelines require schools to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, there are limits on the amount of grains, proteins, and fat that can be served over the course of a week.

The portions served are not large enough for cross country runners or football players, but most of the kids in the lunch line are not athletes.

If your child wants more for lunch, here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure they know that they can take as much of the fruits and vegetables as they want when they go through the line if that is allowed in the district (this can vary by district). Also, ask if students are allowed to go back for more fruits and vegetables at no additional cost.
  • Ask your child if they are taking and eating what is available. You may need to work on expanding the foods your child likes by serving a variety at home and role model eating those foods.
  • Allow your child to buy additional portions from the a la cart line if it is available.
  • Have your child take snacks from home.

In Iowa, vending, a la carte, and some fundraising items have nutrition requirements based on the Healthy Kids Act of 2008.

A la Carte observations

ala carte optionsTwo of the middle schools I ate lunch at offered a la carte items. I didn’t see extra portions of the food we ate for lunch offered for sale which I thought was surprising…maybe I just missed it.

The food for sale was cans of carbonated fruit juice, 100-calorie packets of Chex mix, baked crackers, and fruit roll-ups. The kids charged these foods on their accounts just like they charged their lunches. There were no prices listed for the a la carte items and none of the kids knew how much the items cost.

My nieces both charged their Switch drink (carbonated 100% fruit juice). My brother-in-law reviewed their lunch bill and told me the Switch drink costs $1.50 for an 8-ounce can. So, instead of an economical $2.50 or less for lunch, the charge was $4.

A lower cost option would be to take extra fruits or vegetables at no charge or have the kids bring juice boxes and other snacks in their backpacks.

Healthy foods that don’t need refrigeration

  • Raisins, dried fruit, popped popcorn, dry cereals such as granola or cheerios, nuts like almonds and cashews, fruit cups, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, peanut butter on apple with raisins
  • Fresh, dried, or packaged fruits such as apricots, oranges, peaches, cherries, grapes, pears, bananas, plums, kiwi, apples, Fruit roll-ups, trail mix, oatmeal cookie

Attention Parents … School Lunch is changing!

For the first time in 15 years there are major changes in school lunches that will result in healthier meals for kids. What’s changing? The new school meals will contain more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; low-fat or non-fat milk; and less sodium and fat. The meals will also be “right sized”– portion sizes will be based on a student’s age.the school day just got healthier

The most economical meal at school is the full meal, also called the reimbursable meal. A reimbursable meal includes at least three of the five components (meat or meat alternate, fluid milk, grains, fruits, and vegetables). One of the components must be a fruit or vegetable for the meal to count as a full meal and qualify the school to get some of the costs for the meal reimbursed.

High schools and an increasing number of middle and elementary schools have Offer versus Serve. This helps reduce waste by not making students take food that they don’t like or won’t eat and also provides more choices. However, students will now be required to have 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable on their tray for it to count as a full meal. If the tray doesn’t have the fruit or vegetable component, students will be charged separately for each item on their tray (called ala carte) which is much more expensive.

Parents need to discuss lunch choices with their child so the bill for student meals isn’t a surprise….or even better go to school and eat with your kids.

Schools are doing their part by offering healthier foods. Now, we need to support the effort by encouraging children to give the healthier meals a try. Here are some new resources to help educate parents and kids on the meal changes:

What are your thoughts on these changes?

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