North Texas school districts are responsible for feeding hundreds of thousands of students every day, but sometimes the cafeteria may miss the mark.
Frustrated Everman High School parent Rachel Polk reached out to NBC 5 with concerns about a number of school lunches at the school.
“These are high school kids that receive this crap for lunch and they are NOT allowed to leave campus for lunch,” Polk said.
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Everman ISD issued the following statement:
"EISD follows the nutritional guidelines set by National School Lunch & School Breakfast Program. Each campus has a food committee that meets monthly. The food committee consists of students and staff members. Their goal is to provide information about the food, what they would like to see more of and provide new suggestions for food choices. Some of the items the students suggest are piloted on campus to see if the other students like them."
NBC 5 reached out to surrounding school districts for perspective on how they handle school lunch issues. Their statements are listed below.
"Like most districts, we have USDA guidelines to follow and do so daily with that in mind. But our Food and Child Nutrition Services department regularly host menu taste tests when looking at setting the menu for the year. There is actually a committee who helps create the menu. We solicit feedback from students (culinary students, as well), parents, our nutritionists and others. We also have a commercial size warehouse and central kitchen where certain meals are made daily to have sent out to the schools."
FORT WORTH ISD
"FWISD operates under the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The United States Department of Agriculture sets guidelines for running these programs. The nutrition guidelines are based on recent Institute of Medicine recommendations. All items on the menu must meet strict guidelines including being made with whole grains, lean proteins, skim/low-fat dairy, as well as being low in sodium, low in saturated fat and containing zero trans fats. It is required to offer 2 servings of fruits and vegetables with lunch and a 2 servings of fruits or vegetables with breakfast. FWISD offers a fresh fruit and/or vegetable daily as part of our new initiative #FocusingonFruitsandVeggies. Even though you may see items on our menu similar to those found at stores and/or restaurants, our items are a healthier version. For example, the pizza on the FWISD menu has a whole grain crust, is lower in fat and sodium, and provides a serving of meat/meat alternate. We also must function under other guidelines required to ensure we are managing our program in a financially responsible manner. Every thing purchased must follow strict procurement processes. All vendors must be approved and all items require a Child Nutrition Label from the USDA to ensure they fall within school nutrition program regulations. The menu planners at FWISD are registered dietitians who search for great tasting healthy food and menu ideas from approved vendors, food shows, and from our students. They also network with neighboring school districts to find additional ideas and recipes that meet our regulations and are popular with students. Before a new items is added to the menu, they are taste tested with student focus groups and/or rolled out district wide as part of a theme meal to get district wide student feedback. Our best resource for menu ideas comes from the students themselves! Our dietitians/menu planners are constantly seeking feedback from students, parents and staff for new menu ideas or ways to improve current menu items. You can check out our healthy menus and leave feedback online."
"A top consideration would be Federal Meal Program guidelines and USDA food utilization. Most lunch menus are built on a three-week cycle with some adjustments are made at the change of the semester. Breakfast menus are on a one-week cycle. Meal components include:
Portion sizes vary based on school level, but the criteria are still the same regardless of level. Annual input on menu items is provided to district administrators from campus managers based on student feedback. The food and nutritional services department (FANS) also conducts some taste testing/menu sampling during the year."
"There are 2 main factors we consider when deciding what goes on a student’s tray:
1) Lunch program requirements- the USDA has very specific guidelines for the types of foods we offer (i.e. all grains must be whole grains), minimum quantities of each food group that must be offered daily and weekly, as well as maximum limits for sodium, calories, and saturated fat. All of our menus must meet these requirements.
2) Students- we monitor trends in food purchases, and combine this information with feedback from students, parents, and staff to give us a picture of what the students want for lunch every day. We also meet with student focus groups throughout the school year to get feedback on our menus and/or taste test potential new menu items.
We offer a balanced meal every day, with options from each food group (grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and milk). An example of an elementary school menu is:
- Steak Fingers w/Whole Grain Roll
- Orange Chicken w/Brown Rice
- Broccoli Cheese Soup w/Whole Grain Roll
- Mashed Potatoes
- Fresh Fruit and Veggie Bar- a colorful variety of fruits and veggies offered daily
- Strawberry Applesauce (unsweetened)
- Mixed Fruit
- Choice of Milk
As mentioned above, the USDA sets guidelines for the types of foods we can offer. Our grains are whole grain, breaded items (i.e. steak fingers) are whole grain breaded, items are all reduced sodium and reduced fat, all items are Trans fat-free, etc. We make sure that the items offered meet the minimum daily and weekly requirements for portion size, and we also have minimum and maximum calorie ranges for each age/grade group. This helps to ensure that the portion sizes are age-appropriate. Our menus may look different each day, but they all meet these requirements!"
"Outside of following the Federal and State regulations, we first and foremost rely on student input and feedback when determining what menu items will be served and featured. Every year we survey students to receive up to date opinions on the current menus while also asking what future items they would like to see offered. We also are constantly studying participation trends and statistics to understand which items students prefer. This can be broken down by campus, season, and even weather patterns which can impact student participation trends. Also, we have an annual survey of parents and community members to gather feedback on what they would like to see and gauge our methods of communication. Another resource we rely on is taste-testing and pilot programs that we identify are popular trends in the food service industry. This allows us the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction with students and understand what menu items would have a higher acceptability vs. other items. Finally, we partner with the Student Health Advisory Committee, Wellness Committee, and Menu Committee to understand what the district and community members’ priorities are with what is offered in the school cafes and how we can best support those initiatives. All of this data, along with the input of our resident Chefs, Registered Dietitians, and Food Service Team members, is used to determine what the menus are each month. This helps us to best serve the students of Lewisville ISD and try to accommodate as many preferences as possible while still maintaining compliance with the federal and state guidelines."