Many of us remember school lunches from a different decade made up of hot dogs, pizza or chicken nuggets. (This former Idahoan’s favorite was the baked potato bar in my Boise school.)
But the hot lunch of today is different.
“When we talk about pizza, we’re not talking about Domino’s,” said Heidi Dupuis, manager of school nutrition programs for Oregon’s Department of Education. “We’re talking about pizza that is whole grain rich. The cheese is reduced fat, and the meat products are all lean. You can’t find a healthier pizza.”
In 2010, Michelle Obama made it her mission to get healthier, more nutritional options into school cafeterias. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act required schools who participate in the National School Lunch Program to meet a number of meal criteria: less sodium, more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, less saturated and trans fat, and small meat portions.
So, what does school lunch look like today? Are meal options both healthful and tasty? We asked NW students, teachers and school staffers to send us photos of their lunch trays.
I spoke with Dupuis to get a sense of what it takes for an Oregon school to comply with the rules. Turns out, it’s harder for small schools with limited budgets to pull off a lunch program, especially with the new requirements and especially in rural Oregon.
But Dupuis says school lunch is an important part of educating kids about good nutrition. “School lunch gives students a picture of what a nutritionally adequate and balanced meal looks like midday,” she said.
And for some kids, lunch might be the only healthy meal they get all day.