Originally created 01/18/01

Schools feature healthier menus



The menu - spaghetti, bread sticks, a garden salad, broccoli, an apple, milk - sounds like something you'd find at Olive Garden or Luigi's, not at Tubman Middle School.

But the school lunch most parents remember - that of mystery meat, Tater Tots and a stale slice of bread - is long gone from the lunch tables of today's schools.

These days, schools everywhere are focusing on developing good eating habits for children and teen-agers by making sure everyone is getting healthy, low-fat meals for breakfast and lunch.

In the past 10 years, schools across the country have lowered the overall fat content of meals from 38 percent of calories to 30 percent. In Richmond, Aiken and Columbia counties, that number is less than 30 percent.

Ten years ago, less than a third of elementary schools nationwide offered pupils low-fat lunches. Today, four of every five schools do, according to the USDA.

"School meals reach nearly 27 million children each day, sometimes providing the most nutritious meal a child receives," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. "Fortunately, more than ever before, these meals are hitting the mark in providing good nutrition and healthy selections."

The School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, released last week by the USDA, found that school lunches meet or exceed all recommended daily allowances for key nutrients. The study, conducted from 1998 to 1999, found that 95 percent of public schools offer two choices of milk, and 70 percent offer two or more choices of fruits and vegetables.

"We try to encourage children to develop good eating habits at an early age because we know those good eating habits will last a lifetime," said Josephine Mack, the director of nutrition for Richmond County's public schools.

As part of that endeavor, Mrs. Mack said, the amount of fruits and vegetables served to each pupil has been increased from ´ cup to 1´ cups.

That's a lot of fruit and vegetables, especially considering that on average, Richmond County school cafeterias serve more than 27,000 lunches per day.

The amount of salt, sodium and cholesterol found in those lunches has been reduced to less than 30 percent. Even vending machines, found mostly at the high schools, are turned off until after the school day ends.

French fries are baked, not fried; sweet potato is a substitute ingredient in brownies. Even the peanut butter and the pizza are low fat.

"We probably shouldn't let the students know that," Mrs. Mack said.

Omar Rivera, one of the hundreds of cafeteria workers employed in Richmond County schools, said the children can't tell the difference.

"They like it," he said.

David Harris, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Tubman Middle School, said the food isn't too bad. "I like the turkey tetrazzini," he said.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.