A few weeks ago I shared with you my trip to Salt Lake City, Utah for the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference. Since that visit I have had some time to reflect on my experience, become better acquainted with a new school system, and learn more about the school lunch program.
I’ve been thinking about this post for the past two days, trying to figure out what I want to say, what I don’t want to say, and how to bring it all together. Then it hit me, it all comes down to something that my mom taught me many years ago, life is all about choices. The same holds true when it comes to school meals.
When I arrived in Salt Lake City I didn’t have any knowledge about the School Nutrition Association or school lunches. I was a clean slate, so to speak, which made me the perfect person to attend such a conference. I’m not a nutritionist or chef and I don’t have a background in health but what I do have going for me is that I am a parent and more importantly, a parent that not only cares about my little one’s education but also their overall health; which includes what they are eating at school.
I stand by my original statement that my mind was blown when I entered the Exhibit Hall. I had never been to an expo of sorts that focuses solely on school nutrition with wall to wall setups for food, beverages, equipment, technology, etc… and it was absolutely jaw dropping. As I roamed the Exhibit and met with two local school representatives there were things that I learned along the way. First, there were products/brands present that I would not consider when trying to make healthier choices for my children. However, this was not common place; these options were more few and far between. Second, there were products there that I wouldn’t dream of serving my children because they wouldn’t eat them. I understand picky eaters, so-so eaters, and kids that will eat just about anything. There were foods and beverages at the conference that wouldn’t appeal to my palate and therefore likely wouldn’t appeal to my children’s because I don’t make a habit of serving them. But, who is to say my neighbor and their children don’t eat these very items every night? Again, it is all about choices and providing our little ones with just that. The idea is to expand their horizons, introduce them to new foods, and provide them with healthier options.
After returning home from my trip I became more interested in the idea of school meals and what my little ones could expect to see if they opted to buy their lunch every day. During this process I learned that the meals that our school offers are very similar to some surrounding schools and yet completely different from others. I live in a smaller, rural area so what is available here is different than what is available in a larger school system or perhaps even a “wealthier” school system. I also started paying more attention to what each meal consists of in an effort to better understand how our school system is meeting the new nutrition standards set by our government.
After doing my own research, which I encourage every parent to do, and becoming better acquainted with Tray Talk, a community for parents to learn about school meals and participate in discussions, our family started making choices. In other words, every night we look at the school menu and decide who wants to pack and who wants to buy. I admit that there are even days when my husband and I urge to children to pack because we know their eating habits and know that if they buy, it is more likely that the food will end up in the trash instead of their tummies. Choices!
Anytime we choose to pack it is not because we are concerned about the nutritional value behind the meal being served at school; quite the contrary. In all actuality, I can almost guarantee that what is being offered at school is healthier than our home options because I am not working under a set of mandated regulations and I’m more apt to throw a couple of “goodies” in their lunchbox versus the cafeteria which does not.
I am also aware that anytime we pack our lunches, we are taking something away from the school. Did you that a schools funds go hand and hand with purchases? In other words, the more kids who buy lunch, the more funds your school will receive. Extra funds mean more improvements. Think about it!
My time spent with Jessica Shelly, the Food Services Director of Cincinnati Public Schools, Ohio and Chris Burkhardt, the Director of Child Nutrition and Wellness at Lakota Local School District, Ohio energized me and urged me to get more involved with the drive behind the meals and what our little ones are being introduced to. Spending time with both of them allowed me to learn more about school meals and how districts work to introduce their kids to new products. It also allowed me to see firsthand the passion behind their position. Until I met Jessica and Chris, I had never talked with someone who’s eyes lit up when they talked about nutrition, who got excited when they showed me the new products that they were bringing to their districts, or how they planned to make their funds stretch to provide their kids with the best they could offer. I say their kids because they love our children. These aren’t positions that people get into for fortune or fame. They are driven by heart and the desire to give our kids more, to teach them more, and to show them more.
This year I have set out to become more involved with children’s school. So far I volunteer at their school once a week and have joined the PTO. I have also been following Tray Talk to see how other parents feel, to become better educated, and been involved in open discussion here and there. I urge you to play an active role in your children’s school life as well. If volunteering or joining the PTO isn’t your thing, then take time to become better acquainted with their school meal program.
Life is all about choices. The choices that we make determine the direction of our life. Make the choice to learn more about what your little one is eating at school. Make the choice to become a part of the discussion so we can all work together to introduce our little ones to new tastes and smells. Make the choice to become part of the Tray Talk community.
Thanks to the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference I have learned a great deal about our district’s program. Hopefully you have been moved to do the same. If you have questions about your school system and what they offer, simply ask! Remember, schools love to have open dialogue with parents so feel free to ask questions.
For additional information about the School Nutrition Association, visit them at http://schoolnutrition.org/schoolmeals.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by the School Nutrition Association. All opinions expressed are my own.