Lunch Lady Land

Soy patties. Cardboard pizza squares. Unidentifiable casseroles. The phrase “school lunch” conjures up a host of unappetizing images for many people. But the nutrition teams at the public school systems in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are changing all of that. In an age when childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are on the rise, some children are finding the fare at their schools is more nutritious and tasty than what may be served at home.

Steve Gallagher, director of Child Nutrition Services at Oklahoma City Public Schools, is excited about the changes his district recently has implemented.

“One of our most exciting programs is the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program at the elementary schools,” Gallagher says. “This is a program that allows us to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to all elementary classrooms every day through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables grant. Our goal is to expose our students to a variety of items that they may not usually have a chance to taste and enjoy.

“Ultimately, we feel this will help create better eating habits for life,” he adds.

According to Gallagher, the program equates to $1 million worth of fresh fruits and vegetables being consumed by Oklahoma City students every year.

“Our menus have been adjusted to incorporate a greater percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Among other initiatives underway is participation in the Farm to School Program, which brings locally grown products to cafeteria tables, and the Made In Oklahoma program, showcasing local products once per month.

Mikael Harp, executive chef for Tulsa Public Schools Child Nutrition Services, is also on a mission to revolutionize the way his students eat lunch. Like OKCPS, Tulsa Schools participate in the Farm to School and the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.

In addition, Harp says, “Our menus have been adjusted to incorporate a greater percentage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Sandwich bread, rice and the majority of breaded products are of the whole grain variety. Plant-based (vegetarian) items are offered every day, and legumes are offered at least once a week.

“The menu change also incorporates more scratch cooking and less processed food product usage,” Harp continues. “We have developed training for our staff and expanded communications to our schools, parents and community. The students are in a learning environment in the cafeteria, and we have to encourage them to broaden their experiences with food. Our department is working diligently to balance menu items that are familiar, inspirational, nutritious and fun.”

René Norman, a registered dietician with Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa, fervently applauds the efforts of Oklahoma’s public school systems to bring a healthy lifestyle into the cafeteria, especially during a time of tight funding. According to her, the menus of both school districts “are in good shape, nutritionally speaking.”

 

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