Balancing students’ needs and wants in the lunchroom

Not all students like what’s on the menu at school, meaning a lot of food ends up in the trash.

Public schools are still adapting to federally mandated school meal regulations. Cafeteria workers are now working on balancing what students need with what they want.

Important choices are being made by students like fifth-graders Jackson Henson and Kayla Keeling each day. "My favorite breakfast is the tornadoes. They are like little tiny burritos," Henson said. "I have loads of favorites. I like the chicken nuggets. They’re pretty good," Keeling said.

With recent nutrition guideline changes, Kitchen Manager Cecilia Taylor cooked up school meal plans long before the first day of school. "They have to have whole grain, 100 percent whole grain. You try to figure that between the calorie count for the week, how much they’re allowed and the sodium count. Make sure they don’t go over their sodium count," Taylor said.

Cafeterias now work on a calorie counts. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade need to take in 650 calories at lunch. "A lot of the parents think that we’re not giving them enough," said Taylor. But by government standards, students are getting the right food group portions. When it comes to protein, students are required 1 ounce. "And then you go by the three-fourths cup of red/orange veggies, so many cups of this and that. It’s just kids don’t want to eat it all," explained Taylor.

To help attract young students to new foods, there are posters with messages like "healthy eating from head to toe." That’s one of many posters hanging in the South Livingston Elementary cafeteria, giving kids the chance to read which foods fuel their bodies. 

"A lot of it you can take, prepare it, put a little bit on a plate and say just try it. If they try it, they tend to like it," said Taylor

What Kayla would like to see is something sweet on the menu. "I wish they would serve cake or anything like that," Keeling said laughing. For students in South Livingston Elementary, the sweetest item on the tray are foods like peaches, oranges, apples and sometimes fruit cups, according to 10-year-old Henson.

South Livingston Elementary also offers a grant-funded morning and after school program. In the afternoon, a small yet nutritious snack is served with milk or juice. If you would like more information on Livingston County’s after school program, click here

Related Articles