The Top School Nutrition Questions Answered

This year school nutrition has spent ample time in the schools working with students, teachers, and parents.  By far, the most common questions relate to what we serve our students at school and why. Here are answers to some of the top questions!

Why is it important to serve nutritious meals at schools?  

Good nutrition is important for kids to perform their best in school. Hungry children display more behavioral problems in school and have lower test scores.  By simply eating a nutritious school meal, children can perform better on exams, have better school attendance, and ultimately be more successful! This is why we offer both school breakfast and lunch daily in all of our schools here in Loudoun County.

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Do school lunches follow any nutrition guidelines?

Yes, the school meals we serve today are not the same as what was served even 5 years ago! School nutrition programs across the county follow strict regulations following The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2010 and officially enforced during the 2012-2013 school year. The purpose of the act was to improve the nutritional value of school meals. The new regulations focus on providing a variety of food groups rather than meeting specific nutrient requirements. The concept behind this is that children who eat a variety of whole foods will likely meet their nutrient needs, and by focusing on food groups rather than individual nutrients, fewer fortified processed foods will be served.

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The new regulations require:

  • 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup vegetables at each meal.
  • At least one serving of meat or meat substitute (beans, tofu, nuts, cheese, or yogurt) at each meal.
  • Dark green, red/orange, other colored vegetables, and legumes must all be served at least once per week.
  • All grains must be whole grain-rich.
  • Reduce sodium levels in foods by 50% over 10 years.
  • No trans fats and <10% of calories from saturated fat.
  • Only serve 1% or nonfat plain milk or nonfat flavored milk.
  • A max calorie limit for school meals (650 calories for K-5, 700 calories for 6th-8th grade, and 850 calories for 9th-12th grade)

Why can’t we sell cupcakes during the day for our fundraiser anymore?

Getting students to choose healthy foods during the school day is extremely difficult when vending machines stocked with candy and chips are on every corner, or cookies and cupcakes are being sold in the hallway. Foods sold at schools that are not included in the school lunch program are called competitive foods.

The new Smart Snacks in School program went into effect in July 2014 and extended the federal nutritional standards to all foods sold in school including a la carte items, vending machines, school stores, and even school club fundraisers from midnight to 30 minutes after the last bell, and nothing can be sold during school meal times. These new standards require that. foods sold in schools must:

  • Contain no more than 200 calories
  • Be “whole-grain rich” or primarily made of fruits and vegetables containing at least ¼ cup of fruit and vegetables
  • Contain no more than 230 mg of sodium
  • Or contain 10% of the recommended daily value of calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and dietary fiber.
  • Beverages are limited to water, unflavored low fat milk, unflavored or flavored fat free milk and milk alternative, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water and with no sweeteners.

Do you serve real food for school lunch?

School Nutrition strives to provide our students with a variety of healthy menu selections daily.  We pay close attention to the labels of all items we use and try to bring in products with labels that are as clean as possible.  The protein options we serve such as our 100% beef burgers and chicken drumsticks are free from artificial dyes, flavors, and soy.  We offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to all of our students.  In the secondary schools this year, we introduced the self-serve fruit and vegetable bars so that students can take the fruit and vegetable portions that they want.

What farm to school efforts are you doing in Loudoun?

School Nutrition is actively involved in the growing farm to school program here in Loudoun.  This year, we launched our fruit and vegetable taste test promotion, called Taste It Thursday in the elementary schools and Fear Factor Friday in the secondary schools.  These promotions allow all students to try a new seasonal fruit or vegetable item, free of charge.  It is available during lunch to both those students who purchase lunch and those who pack.  So far, students have been able to try everything from parsnips and tricolor cauliflower to grapefruit!

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In addition to this, school nutrition has worked closely with our school gardens (not working with gardens, but with schools with gardens) to incorporate project based learning activities with school nutrition.  We have hosted garden harvest days and taste parties so that students can make the connections between the food they grow and how it can be used in school meals.  School Nutrition has also partnered with Kilmer’s Farm in Inwood, WV so that some of our schools are able to offer locally grown fruit during school meals.  We hope to grow this partnership as well as increase the number of partnerships with local farms around the region in the future.

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Want to know more about our program or how your school garden can partner with school nutrition?  Visit our website or leave a comment below.

Written By: Stefanie Dove, RDN, CDN, School Nutrition Marketing Specialist, Loudoun County Public Schools

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