The school cafeteria has long been portrayed as a place where students gather during lunch for camaraderie with friends or to face off against foes.
But what has traditionally been remembered most about the school lunchroom isn’t who sat where or what was said to make friends angry with one another, but the food. Whether good or bad, everyone remembers the food.
It’s an area that Linda Holland, the director of Polk School District’s School Nutrition program, is trying to make sure that when students carry memories of meals on local school campuses with them, they are positive ones of full bellies and smiles.
Holland said that sometimes, it can be a challenge to meet that goal, especially when schools are kept within guidelines to ensure that healthy food is being served to kids.
“I think the main complaint has been the food has no taste. So we’ve been trying to make healthy food taste better by looking at a lot of different options,” Holland said.
One solution to that goal that Polk School District students have been given the chance to shake onto their meals: spices.
Custom-made seasoning blend recipes are being put together in-house, and Holland said it’s a healthy alternative to sauces since the seasoning doesn’t add salt or sugars to students.
So instead of spreading sugar or dipping sauces on top of sweet potato fries served up in the cafeteria, students can instead sprinkle on a special blend with cinnamon to add flavors that give a healthy alternative.
“We’ve had a lot of tastings with students and tried to incorporate different seasonings with the food,” she said.
The most popular so far with students have been a Tex-Mex style blend, ranch flavoring and a Buffalo-style seasoning.
Students have been getting to use shakers since earlier this school year, Holland said.
Her managers at schools talked about the latest ways they’ve tried to spice up student meals during the school board’s May work session, along with ideas they’ve brought back from a conference held for school nutrition officials within the state at Jekyll Island.
Holland said that as they find ways to help students enjoy eating healthier foods, another strategy could also ensure that youth will eat their vegetables: get them involved in the growing process.
“A lot of people don’t know where food comes from, so one of our goals is to get students involved in the process of growing their own produce in school gardens and through agriculture education,” Holland said.
She said that schools will also start seeing more locally produced items being used to create student meals as part of an initiative to incorporate local farmers in the food production chain within the school system by 2020.