Gov't Urges Parents to Use School Lunches As a Model for Family Dinner

Susan Jones | October 2, 2012 | 8:31am EDT
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Side salads await the students of Eastside Elementary School in Clinton, Miss., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Much consideration goes into the planning of these school children's lunches. The leaner, greener school lunches served under new federal standards are getting mixed grades from students. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

( - Government-approved school meals as a model for the family dinner table?

Responding to concerns that students are throwing away the healthy food on their cafeteria trays, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged that adapting to the changes "may be challenging at first, as students are introduced to new flavors and foods in the cafeteria."

But the government also says parents can help school make the taste-transition easier:

"We know that many parents are already making changes at home to help the whole family eat healthier," the USDA blogged on Monday. "We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible."

A recent video produced by high school students in Kansas mocked the healthy school lunches, showing young athletes fainting from starvation. "We are hungry," they lip-synched, as one by one they topple over.

The USDA blog appears to be a response to that satire:

"We know it is important that students get the calories and nutrition they need to stay alert and energized through the day, and schools are doing a number of things to make sure this happens," wrote Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA's deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

Schools can "allow kids a certain amount of flexibility to choose only the foods they intend to eat," the blog said. "We refer to this as “offer vs. serve” (OVS).  OVS allows students to decline one or two of the food items offered in a school lunch. Schools can decide how to implement OVS, including which grades and how many items can be declined."

As previously reported, the public school system in Fairfax County, Va., requires students to select a serving of fruit or vegetables for the reduced school-lunch price to apply.

The U.S.D.A.'s Thornton noted that "while some of the new school meals are different," most schools still serve "old favorites" -- although the chicken nuggets are now baked instead of fried, and and pizza slices come with lower-fat cheese and more vegetable toppings.

"Still, we don’t want students to make a habit of skipping unfamiliar fruits and veggies and other new healthy items," she said.

In addition to parental involvement, the USDA is encouraging schools to offer taste tests in which students provide  "feedback" on meals to food service staff.
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