Mystery meat a thing of the past

What was once slop on a tray or a vacuumpacked TV dinner has graduated to a choicebased, nutrition-inspired display of colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains. “School lunch” has a negative stigma, but the reality is school lunches are often fresher and healthier than our typical homemade dinners. Schools have strict nutrition guidelines they must meet, certain varieties of foods they must offer and certain limits they can’t breach. The USDA has made great strides to make rules for meals and even Smart Snacks guidelines for any foods students have access to beyond lunch.

With registered dietitians joining food service staff around the nation, schools like those in the Sheboygan Area School District have handpicked food choices, chosen by the best of the best in the nutrition field and by the kids who eat them.

Children in school are encouraged to take at least three components of a perfectly balanced meal — protein, grain, fruit, vegetable and milk. Schools enforce proper quantities and, through this, kids have learned to make healthy choices and try new things. It’s more than just lunch, too. The Sheboygan Area School District has breakfast, supper and after school snack programs that also give kids access to healthy foods.

The goal of school nutrition professionals, in a nutshell, is to promote healthy behaviors in children in an effort to form habits and preferences that carry these healthy behaviors into adulthood.

Schools like those in the Sheboygan district have made an exciting overhaul, but may parents and guardians haven’t seen this change. Salad bars, multiple entrée lines and local produce are everywhere you turn and the best part is kids are willing and excited to eat it all.

When you think about school meals, many people think back to watching a lunch lady plop a spoonful of mystery meat on a tray, but today lunch ladies watch thirdgraders load up their trays with fresh broccoli, oranges and even rutabaga.

Kids are open to trying new, healthier foods and the standards of school lunches have changed — it’s time we all see that.

Check out some real school food served in your Sheboygan County schools by searching #RealSchoolFood on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Taylor Haeffele is a dietetic intern for the Sheboygan Area School District