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County public schools offer healthy options for school lunch

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What are kids eating for lunch? Here's a typical school lunch at Prince George's County Schools. Photo by Alexis Goring

What are kids eating for lunch? Here's a typical school lunch at Prince George's County Schools. Photo by Alexis Goring

Published on: Wednesday, October 30, 2013

By Alexis Goring, Special to The Sentinel

Have you ever wondered what’s on your kid’s school lunch menu? Are the items free of trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils? Will school children who have food allergies be safe? Is the food processed or fresh? Alexis Goring, a reporter for The Prince George’s Sentinel paid a visit to the cafeteria in Greenbelt Middle School to find out the answers to all your questions. Goring also spoke with Joan Shorter, Director of Food and Nutrition Services and Rochelle Lightner, R.D., LDN, Nutrition Specialist to give the readers an inside scoop.

Goring: On the lunch menu for Thursday, Oct. 24, I see the following food options: Entrée choices include chicken nuggets and  honey BBQ sauce, red beans & rice, Turkey Italian Cold Cut sub, Fiesta Chicken Salad platter and saltine crackers. Side options consist of: Steamed Green Beans, Sweet Potato Fries, Fresh Pear. Tell me, what is the typical calorie count for a school lunch?

Lightner: A typical lunch in elementary school lunch contains about 640 calories.

Goring: Give the readers a behind-the-scenes look at food preparation and planning for school lunches.

Lightner: The way we plan our menu is based on the guidelines from USDA…So I’m looking at whether these products are made from protein and asking, What are the calorie and sodium levels and saturated fat levels and whether or not they contain trans fat? At this time we don’t have to look or identify any other additional ingredients…The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act states that none of the school lunches can contain trans fats which would be partially hydrogenated oils.

Goring: I hear that it was not a challenge at all for cafeteria managers to follow the mandate to remove partially hydrogenated items from the school lunch menu. Tell me more.

Lightner: We work closely with our manufacturers and they’re on top of USDA regulations as well so when the regulations come down, they quickly start working to reformulate their product so they do not contain trans fat…Even when the regulation came down that our products had to be trans fat free there were maybe a handful of products that we had on our menu that had trans fat so we did not need to make any major adjustments to our menu.

Goring: Can you analyze the school lunch menu for me in terms of nutrition?

Shorter: We can tell you that it meets the guidelines of the USDA regulations and that we offer a protein, we offer a grain product, we offer a fruit and vegetables and milk. All of those menus met the requirement in the portion sizes and the quantities that’s required by law.

Goring: So how do you deal with children who have food allergies such as to peanuts and gluten?

Lightner: We follow the guidelines provided by the USDA in handling any sort of dietary adjustments that a child may need.

Goring: Do you have any final comments?

Lightner: We feel very confident in the meals that we provide. We’re providing a whole grain product. We offer fresh fruits and vegetables daily. We’re offering students at least two vegetables a day and a fruit a day and they get a protein and a low fat or fat-free milk choice with their meal. So we feel very strongly that the meals we’re providing are healthy and we would encourage our students to participate in our lunch program.




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