Celebrating healthy eating as part of National School Lunch Week

Mark your calendar for National School Lunch Week. Created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, National School Lunch Week celebrates the benefits of the National School Lunch Program.

This year, Marshalltown School Nutrition Services will recognize National School Lunch Week from Oct. 9-13. The theme is “School Lunch: Recipes for Success.” It’s all about showing off the secret ingredients to Marshalltown’s school lunch program and of course, our students.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to students each school day. To meet standards for a federally reimbursable meal, schools are required to serve high-quality, nutritious meals that meet nutrition standards regarding low-fat dairy, whole grains, saturated fat and sodium while offering larger amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. We want kids to eat with us and participate in our program so we strive to give our students a variety of options that meet nutrition guidelines and that are acceptable to students.

Marshalltown School Nutrition Services also embraces locally grown produce. Throughout the year we serve Iowa Sweet Corn from local farmers available through Iowa Choice Harvest. Our whole grain dinner rolls and sandwich buns are made from scratch and baked fresh daily by our in-house bakery. Secondary students and district staff can opt for nutrient packed salads filled with good-for-you ingredients or they might try our beef carnitas tacos made with zesty, seasoned beef, topped with fresh pico. Making the healthy choice the easy choice will lead to success in the lunch room and that translates to success in the classroom.

Not only are our recipes a success in the lunch room, but so is our professional nutrition staff. Nutrition staff are required to have anywhere between 4-12 hours of continuing education each year. We have several nutrition staff who are members of the School Nutrition Association, a national organization with 56,000 members. It is beneficial for school nutrition staff to belong to a professional organization to help fulfill professional standard hours and gain access to other resources. We are not just lunch ladies anymore, we are nutrition professionals. In fact, the Marshalltown School Nutrition Program now has two registered dietitians on its staff. It takes a team of well-trained staff to serve more than 4,500 nutritious meals to students every school day. Now that’s something to smile about.

School lunch plays a critical role in the education of children. With school lunches being healthier than ever, students can expect a fulfilling lunch room experience and are encouraged to adopt healthy habits that will serve them for a lifetime.

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Michelle Mitchell is food service nutrition supervisor/dietitian with Marshalltown Schools.