Or, more accurately, what they could choose
to eat if they happen to attend a Howard County public school.
A few months ago at a New Year's Eve gathering I happened to meet Judith
Schardt-Shure, who is the cafeteria manager for Burleigh Manor Middle
School in Ellicott City. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Judith
proceeded to dispel one myth after another that I held about the HCPSS
school lunch program.
Other people are noticing our school lunches, too. The Howard County
Public School System’s Food & Nutrition Service recently earned an
"A+" grade from the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine
. They also received, for all 73 schools, a HealthierUS Schools Bronze Award
, which includes a letter from First Lady (and fitness maven) Michelle Obama.
The local media had reported on the two awards, but in a way that added
no real information to the press releases. So through Judith I met Mary
Klatko, who oversees food and nutrition for all Howard County public
schools. We spent a recent morning together at Howard High School
photographing lunch choices on offer to the students. Some of those
choices are represented here.
In talking to Mary (along with area field rep Rosalie Edwards and,
later, several students) I learned that school lunches in Howard County
in 2013 are nothing like those I remember as a high school student in
the early 1980s.
For one thing, nutrition is a big deal. More so, I suspect, than when I
was in school. They count calories, grams of fat (saturated and
unsaturated) protein and carbs. Fiber matters, too. Judith noted that
not only are whole-grain breads used, but at the middle school level the
serving size is upped one day per week to submarine sandwiches to
fulfill the weekly fiber goals. Some rolls are now baked onsite, and are
noted as such on the menu.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Similarly,
and as every parent knows, just because nutritious food is on offer
doesn't necessarily mean kids will eat it. So nutritional choices are
for the HCPSS a balancing act. Which is to say that they try to strike a
compromise between the healthiest foods and what will actually make it
into kids' mouths.
Stealth nutrition is introduced wherever possible. Those fries aren't
fried, they're baked. And kids are required to take minimum amounts of
fruit and vegetables. Whether they all get eaten is another battle, but
the goal is to build healthy habits early.
The number of food choices increases as the students progress from
elementary age through middle school and into high school. As kids get
older, their palettes broaden. And the school lunch menu expands to take
advantage of that and introduce more options.
Certainly at the high school level, cafeteria food is getting more
upscale. I don't remember shrimp poppers, seen above, being on offer
back in 1981.
For the older kids salad bars are a big deal, too. You can eat as much
salad (with veggies and beans) as you want. This is especially important
to high school athletes, who are as a rule more nutrition-conscious and
have metabolisms that require more fuel.
Using some of the information supplied by the county office, I compiled
the chart below. Some of the items surprised me, both in terms of
nutrition and of the scale involved in feeding Howard County's students.
(It is clickable for a larger version.)
How many school lunches, for example, would you guess are served each year in Howard County?
For more information (such as menus, allergy info, nutritional content,
fitness and doctor's articles, etc.) visit the school lunch program's website