Program lets students vote on healthier lunches to add to school menu

Posted December 11, 2015 6:50 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2015 12:23 p.m. EST

— Getting children to eat healthy foods is sometimes a difficult task, but nutrition experts say solving the problem of childhood obesity depends on it. So, Orange County Schools is letting students sample healthy dishes and vote on whether they should become part of the regular breakfast and lunch menus at area schools.

The "Try Day Friday" program, funded by a grant from the Kohl's Cares Foundation, hopes to incorporate foods that meet new federal nutrition standards, that cafeteria workers can prepare on tight schedules and that schools can fit into even tighter budgets.

"You have to be a little bit more creative in using the commodities and the ingredients that are available to them," said Ryan McGuire, chef instructor at Chef's Academy in Morrisville, who is working with the project.

For example, he made a French toast casserole and a Caesar salad dressing from ingredients he found at Grady Brown Elementary School in Hillsborough.

"The French toast casserole – awesome," fifth-grader Edgar Pabellon said.

"This is awesome. It's really good," fifth-grader Amber Parker said, giving a thumbs-up to crunchy fish wraps.

"I like the salad dressing," fifth-grader Tori Carden said.

Spring Dawson-McClure, a research collaborator with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, said getting children excited about trying new foods is important.

"We know that, if kids are brave food explorers, if they're curious, they look at it, they smell it, they taste it when they're ready, that, over the long term, they will make healthier choices," Dawson-McClure said.

"They just get really excited about it when something new is happening," McGuire said. "They love seeing the chef's outfit. They love seeing new faces in the cafeteria."

School volunteer Helen Roberts said the students enjoy filling out feedback cards for each dish.

"They have the ability to say how they liked it and would you try it again and their comments," Roberts said. "They're very honest about it."

Dawson-McClure said healthier breakfasts and lunches at school will help students focus more in class and put them on the path to healthier eating throughout life.

"Everyone is on board with making school food healthier, with making sure that we’re supporting good health in children, but the reality is that those stricter (federal school nutrition) standards actually make the job really tough," she said.