Revamping cafeteria menus beneficial

October 28, 2009 — by Karen Lyu

In schools all over the nation, school lunches are overcoming a reputation for dishing out mystery meats and greasy pizzas by teaming up with companies and programs that provide schools with healthier alternatives at lower costs. Saratoga might consider moving in this direction and take advantage of the many programs and what they have to offer.

Although students enjoy and appreciate the choice of being able to pick out fruit and veggie smoothies and fresh salads here, there’s still the matter of the school having foods that seem healthy but could be a lot healthier. For instance, the sugary Fizz-ed drinks are considered healthy yet contain 20 more grams of sugar than a 20 ounce soda. This is the sort of food choice schools should move away from.

According to expert nutritionist Kathy Webster, who revamped the entire menu at La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District with no cost to the school’s original food budget, processed foods cost more in the long run. Cooking fresh and local food, surprisingly, can cost less. Webster researched the lists of federally reimbursed food ingredients included in the free lunch program provided by the government and chose wholesome foods like brown rice and whole wheat pasta. She also looked to local organic farms for fresh produce at a discounted price.

Simple steps the school could take to improve its menu at breaks and lunches would include reaching out to programs such as the “Farm to School” programs that connect schools with companies that provide organic lunches.

Revolution Foods is one of these companies, selling high-end snacks for lower prices, made possible by a partnership with Whole Foods. The school district in Santa Cruz has already accessed this option, even with the financial difficulties the schools are already having. They are hoping to make a complete transition from providing processed foods to serving freshly prepared meals, with the help of Revolution Foods, and later on, serving such nutritious meals independently without the help of the program or the hired professional

Although hiring a professional organization to come to the school or hiring more employees to cook fresh food can be costly, it would be more beneficial to the students, both academically and physically. Studies have shown that students who live healthier lifestyles are more likely to do well in school and continuously lead healthy lives later on. It is admittedly a big change, but one that responsible schools should be moving toward.

Token efforts to improve nutrition in schools aren’t enough. There is more that can be done, starting with school lunches. Schools need to set a high example and, by doing so, they will help students become more health conscious and adopt fitter lifestyles than posters on walls ever will.