May 02, 2012 - While a push for healthier foods has been seen at grocery stores, restaurants, and even fast food joints, it's also been found in school lunchrooms.
Ben Artwohl grabs a salad. photo by T.Keiser (click for larger version)
"When you see what's happening in other districts, I think there is a real consciousness towards healthier foods," said Tom Toby, interim principal at Lake Orion High School. "Instead of french fries they're going to a sweet potato fry and there are a lot more offerings of vegetables, fruits, soups and salads."
According to Food Service Director for Lake Orion School District Marla Ernst, on any given day an elementary or middle school student has between eight to nine different entrees to choose from and at the high school there is between 13 to 14 entrees, which also includes vegetarian or gluten free entrees as well.
"We do not limit fresh fruit and vegetables," Ernst said. "So, if you would like to have two servings of each that is fine."
She said they've reduced the amount of high calorie entrees, pizza as an example is only offered twice a week. They've also eliminated all fried foods, French fries are now baked. Even the snacks they sell in their A La Carte lines follow the "Action for Healthy Kids" guidelines.
"There are four criteria. The minimum requirement is you must meet three of the criteria to qualify as a healthy snack," noted Ernst. "That means six grams of fat, less than 300 calories, one gram of fiber and 10 percent calcium, iron, vitamin A or C."
There are also nutrition education classes offered at Scripps and Waldon Middle Schools, where kids get to calculate recipes, read menus, learn what utensils to use, and what a walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler look like.
Ernst said they also have staff training through the "Chefs Move to School Program," where certified executive chefs are available to partner with school districts and provide staff training and introduction of different foods to students. The program was initiated and introduced by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Toby said everyday the high school has a variety of sandwiches, roll-ups, and subs, as well as a "grab and go salad" and assorted fruits and veggies.
"We really have quite a nice variety of items for the students," he said.
Even the vending machines have healthier selections in them. Including baked style chips, Goldfish crackers, Smartfood Popcorn, and Arizona Teas and flavored waters to drink.
So what do the students think?
High school student Alexis Maniace doesn't think they have much food to select from in the cafeteria and wishes they had more unhealthy foods to choose. Fellow student Dejanai Simpson was also in favor of a greater selection and described the food as "gross."
"It looks like they just threw it together," she said. "It just tastes awful all the time."
Kofi Biles agreed.
"It costs a lot and it's not even that good," Biles said.
The meals range between $3 to $5 depending on what a student buys.
"We're high school students," said Alexis Daniels "We don't want to spend that much on school lunches."
However, not everyone hated the food.
"I wouldn't say it's overall amazing or anything, but it's edible," said Dominic Gibinazzo. "I'm not all for the healthy thing, but yeah I'll eat it."
Spencer Harr said the food was "alright" and healthier selections didn't really matter to him.
"It's cafeteria food," he said. "It's what you would expect."
Matt Dubay said the healthier selections matter to him "sometimes."
"I like the fruit, sub-side dishes," he said.
The high school has four half hour lunches with around 650 students per lunch. Toby said the food service does a good job with as much food as they put out.
"When you really look at a half-hour," he said. "There is not many places that can take 650 people and get them in and out and on their way and be ready for another 650 shortly there after."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.