Growing Healthy Texans

Author: Beverly Shaw, Education Specialist, Child Nutrition

Powering up with lots of fruits, healthy greens, low-fat milk, and healthy breads makes the school day a lot healthier.  Texas school students spend so much of their day at school, it’s up to us to help them  to make healthy food choices by offering  fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks. Fruits and veggies give them energy to help them  be champions when they learn, run, and play.  We encourage them to think outside of the box and try something new!  Texas agriculture has so much to offer right here at home, why not give it a try?

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, in 2013 Texas alone served on average over 3 million lunches daily,” so you can see why it is so important to make them healthy.  USDA’s Myplate has several resources to help schools and students build a healthy meal.  According to Myplate there are 10 tips for building healthy meals. (Go to http://1.usa.gov/1f1pxi7 for English and http://1.usa.gov/1DtYpEw for Spanish.)  Nationwide, nearly 32 million children receive meals throughout the school day. These meals are based on nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New nutrition standards for schools increase access to healthy food and encourage kids to make smart choices.

Studies have shown that children benefit from healthier meals that include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lower sodium foods, and less saturated fat.  School meals offer more fruits and vegetables as part of the school meal every day and a variety of vegetables is served throughout the week including red, orange, and dark-green vegetables.

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A familiar childhood memory for many of us during school lunch was the famous paper milk carton.  Well, milk still holds its place in a healthy school lunch with both low-fat milk (1%) and fat-free milk varieties now offered.  Children get the same calcium and other nutrients, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat by drinking low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk. For children who can’t drink milk due to allergies or lactose intolerance, schools can offer milk substitutes, such as a calcium-fortified soy beverage.

A variety of foods is offered to reduce the salt and saturated fat in school meals. By thinking outside of the proverbial school lunch tray, school food service professionals are being creative masters in the kitchen. Main dishes are not your typical square pizza anymore.  You  may see items such as hummus and frittatas as well as beans, peas, nuts, tofu, seafood,and foods contain less salt (sodium).  Portion sizes play a huge role in healthy choices.  New portion sizes in school meals meet children’s calorie needs, based on their age. While some portions may be smaller, kids still get the nutrition they need to keep them growing and active.

Schools are stepping up and taking an active role in helping students make healthy choices that hopefully they will take outside of the school cafeteria.  Through stronger local wellness programs school administrators set new policies that offer opportunities for parents and communities to create wellness programs that address local needs. Principals, teachers, school boards, parent-teacher associations, and others are helping to create a strong wellness programs in their communities.

Teachers and other school staff can play an important role in helping to ensure the standards are implemented successfully, and that children are willing to try new options. Here are some ways you can help support healthy school meals:

  • Always speak positively about the school meal program, and encourage your students to try the new meals even if they’re unfamiliar.
  • Talk to your students about the new school lunches. Find out what they like/dislike, and report back to the cafeteria staff.
  • Serve as a role model by occasionally eating school lunch with your students.
  • Incorporate nutrition education into your curriculum, and help students understand the importance of healthy eating.
  • Support the overall message of healthy eating.
  • Help keep parents informed by including information about improvements to school meals in class newsletters, letters, back‐to‐school nights, school websites, etc.

It is up to all of us to grow healthy Texans.

 

Sources

Build a healthy meal. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet7BuildAHealthyMeal.pdf

NSLP statistics. Retrieved Retrieved February 2, 2015 from http://squaremeals.org/Programs/NationalSchoolLunchProgram/NSLPStatistics.aspx


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