5 Surprising Things You Should Know About School Meals

Today’s schools are embracing food trends like sustainability, farm-to-table and scratch-cooking to meet the growing demands of Gen Z foodie-approved meals and snacks. On top of that, the nutrition found in a school meal is often better quality and more well-rounded than a typical meal from your favorite restaurant. Surprised? Keep reading for more ways schools are serving up Ws.

  1. Nutrition excellence is a must.
    1. All food served in schools must meet high nutritional standards. The breakfasts, lunches and snacks served at your campus are all required to meet strict requirements that ensure they provide well-rounded nutrition (think protein, fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy). There are also guidelines for limiting sodium and added sugars. All of these are overseen by the USDA and are based on the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. So, being “healthy” doesn’t have to mean sticking to just the school salad bar – the chocolate milk, breakfast burrito or slice of pizza have all been evaluated by a team of dietitians and nutrition experts to ensure they provide quality nutrition that supports everything from gut health to brain power.
  2. Special dietary needs? No problem.
    1. Whether you are living a lactose-free, vegetarian or gluten-free lifestyle … welcome to the chat. Schools are required to provide accommodations to students with documented food allergies, but an increasing number are also considering food sensitivities and lifestyle preferences when building their menus. If your school is not yet offering menu options that meet a diverse set of eating preferences, consider talking to your School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) or contacting your district’s student nutrition department.
  3. Quality ingredients + diverse menus = Irresistible meals
    1. Popular restaurants known for innovation and sustainability often feature scratch-cooking, locally sourced ingredients (like produce and dairy) and culturally diverse cuisines. These days, school cafeterias are looking more and more like one of these restaurants. Based on student demand, more schools are adding a greater variety of trendy, scratch-made menu options (like this Cinnamon Sugar Bagel and Berry Schmear) and/or culturally inclusive food choices. Federal grants like the Farm to School Program also help schools source more ingredients from local farmers or ranchers. This means the food on your school tray is not only fresh but also supports local businesses and sustainability efforts.
  4. New regulations are working to make meals more affordable than ever – even free.
    1. There shouldn’t be barriers to getting healthy, delicious meals that boost your performance on the field, level up your online gaming, or help you beat the afternoon lag in math class. A growing number of states have recognized the importance of making school meals free for all students and are exploring ways to make this a reality. For example, recent legislation in Colorado now allows all students to benefit from free school breakfast and lunch. Recent legislation in Texas also allows all students who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals to eat at no charge for the next two years.
  5. Craving coffee? Meet your new local coffee shop.
    1. Latte or mocha, iced or hot, flavored syrups or cold brew … if you are looking for a morning pick me up or afternoon energy boost, your high school could be the answer. According to the USDA, high schools are allowed to serve coffee and espresso beverages (up to 12-ounce servings and under 60 calories) as part of the Smart Snacks in School program. Depending on your school, the coffee beverages might also be part of your free school breakfast – but even if they aren’t, they’ll be cheaper than your favorite drink from your coffee chain of choice and contain less added sugars in the flavored syrups. Plus, without the extra time needed to stop at a coffee stop off campus, you might be able to hit the snooze button one extra time.

The next time you need a power up before the school day or an energy boost at lunchtime, you can feel confident that school breakfast and lunch delivers the W you are looking for. Hungry for more? Check out the links below for more delicious facts and recipes.

Recipe: Whey Peanut Butter Protein Bites

Recipe: PB&J Smoothie

Blog: Misconceptions of Lactose Intolerance

By Leslee Powell

Leslee has a background in marketing and communications that she puts to good use helping Dairy MAX's school marketing team reach teachers and school nutrition directors. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2017. When she's not working, Leslee can be found spending time with her husband and their dog. Learn more about Leslee.  

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