The United States Department of Agriculture says school meals play a critical role in helping children learn how to lead healthy lifestyles.
As federal guidelines shift toward healthier fare in school lunches, entrees that are bland and unseasoned won’t do the trick.
Leon County Schools Nutrition Services Director Cathy Reed says many schools have gardens that feature ingredients for adding flavor.
“Some of them have spices, herbs; and we would like the cafeteria to be able to use some of those fresh herbs in their cooking,” Reed said.
“We know how important it is to try to educate children to eat better and eat healthier,” Reed said.
“We just want them to eat these new items that they may see in the schools and hopefully teach them to have a healthier lifestyle.”
The USDA has suggestions for schools to make meals more appealing:
- Boost flavor with herbs, spices, or lower-sodium sauces. Use heart-healthy fats like vegetable oils.
- Encourage frequent selection of whole fruits and vegetables rather than juices.
- Consider innovative offerings like baked apples, potato-based breading and entrée salads.
- Prepare pastas and soups with more vegetables and legumes.
- Engage students in recipe contests and kitchen tours.
- Create attractive fruit displays, give dishes mouth-watering names, and place fruit and veggies ahead of the main dish.
- Give students enough time to select and eat their entire meal.
Rick Parks, lead dietitian with the Florida Department of Agriculture, says gardens are great for letting kids get their hands on the food.
“Research shows that if you invite kids in on the process so you’re talking to them about where your food comes from and they’re involved in the growing process,” Parks said, the students are more likely to try healthy fare.