School lunches get a 21st-century makeover

“We get a lot of feedback from teachers that behavior problems are way down because the kids are eating right,” Sardeson said.

Educators are coming around to recognizing value in having better school food, Mechura told the cafeteria workers.

“Food is one of the most important influences on your everyday brain cells,” she explained. Healthy eating habits, she argued, are as important as everything else schools are trying to teach.

“We have to change,” she said. “We have to build an environment that creates excitement about what we are doing, rather than fear of new foods.”

Software and apps also are available to help make the transition easier.

NuVal, a nutritional scoring system that labels food between 1 and 100—the higher the score, the higher the food’s overall nutrition—is being implemented this fall at Derby middle and high schools in Massachusetts on all a-la-carte items, such as milk, fruit, and side items, and on all vending machines.

NuVal officials say they hope the product will help students make better nutritional choices by putting scores on food items such as Cheetos (score 14), fruit snacks (score 6), Frosted Mini-Wheats (score 36), and so on.

In addition to the food scores, students also will participate in educational programs about nutrition at school, and their families will have access to education about how to receive the best nutrition for their grocery dollars.

NuVal Scores also are available at cafeterias and vending machines in Missouri, Minnesota, and Tennessee.

Another company, Revolution Foods, has teamed up with schools across the country to promote the concept of sustainable, cheap, and healthy foods for schools.

The company is able to provide meals for students at under $3 per child, which is how cheap they have to be for schools to get them fully reimbursed by the federal school lunch program for low-income families. The company cuts costs by buying less-processed ingredients, such as chicken on the bone or blocks of cheese that employees grate instead of the pre-grated kind.

“You can still access convenience with fresh ingredients,” said founder and former Citigroup investment banker Kristin Gross Richmond in a statement. “You just have to have really simple recipes and a simple toolkit.”

According to Hemi Weingarten, creator of the Fooducate blog, the company’s goal is to ignite a healthy food revolution by not only providing access to the highest quality meals, but also engaging directly with students to empower them to make healthier eating decisions for themselves.

“Each school is assigned a Revolution employee (School Account Manager, or SAM for short) with a nutrition background,” Weingarten explains. “Aside from overseeing the lunch program, the SAM teaches nutrition classes. And a few weeks ago, instead of a routine lesson with a whiteboard, the Bay area SAM did something really useful—she taught the kids how to read nutrition labels and ingredient lists. And in order to make it fun, she brought in some iPads with the Fooducate app on them. The children had to read product labels on everyday items and try to analyze and decide how healthy they are. After they came to a conclusion, they would scan the products with Fooducate and see if they were correct.”

Meris Stansbury

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