Food News

DISD Cafeterias are Looking Mighty Svelte These Days. Get Ready to Eat Your Veggies Kids.

Were you a lunch line kid? I was mostly, until Smithville ISD put in a "snack line," which allowed the kids who could afford it to eat pizza and french fries every day, while the others went through the line. In retrospect, it was wrong. Every bit of it. I hope they don't still do that.

The scenario still plays out though. In my particular experience, it's through the a la carte items kids pay extra for, like ice cream. While one kid is stuck with the standard lunch, the kid next to him may be eating his fourth Blue Bell Great Divide of the week (half vanilla, half chocolate).

In one of my "that mom" moves, I called the office last year and asked, "Is it really a good idea to allow first graders to buy Blue Bell at their own discretion? They don't need it, and it separates the haves from the have-nots."

My question was basically ignored. No, wait, not "basically." It was absolutely ignored. Most people don't like calls like that. (Disclaimer: it wasn't DISD.)

I understand they have bigger fish to fry. Or do they?

Dora Rivas is the executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services (FCNS) at DISD, and she would certainly argue it's one of the most important aspects of a kid's day. She's charged with making sure that more than 155,000 students get at least one nutritious meal everyday during the school year.

The FCNS updated its playbook per some new federal standards laid out by the USDA. Here are some things the kids will have to look forward to:

• Age-appropriate calorie limits • Requirement to take at least one serving of vegetables or fruit (previously kids could refuse) • A wider variety of vegetables, including dark green and red and orange vegetables and legumes • Fat-free ofr 1 percent milk (flavored milk must be fat-free) • More whole grains • Less sodium

Rivas pointed out they're working at incorporating vegetables that kids actually enjoy eating.

"Last year we did a taste study with the students and gave them a choice of red, green or yellow bell peppers," Rivas said. "And they chose red peppers, so we have a vegetables salad with red peppers."

Also, Rivas explained that DISD has more than 20 school gardens that students work in, doing tasks from preparing the soil to harvesting fruits and vegetables, then they get to see the food incorporated in the school cafeteria.

"Principals who participate in the program," Rivas said, "definitely find a link between the students experience in the garden and choosing fresh vegetables in the lunchroom."

That makes me want to do cartwheels down the hallway.

I asked about vending machines, and Rivas explained they're supposed to be on timers so that students can't buy from them during lunchtime. Also, candy is prohibited from campus vending machines, but the other day while visiting a school Rivas saw some with candy. She's called a meeting with vendors to make sure they understand the district policy.

Rivas said parents need to be aware that school meals increased by a quarter this year, $1.25 for breakfast and $1.75 for lunch, and she encourages parents to apply for free and reduced lunches on line.

Just for grins, I looked at the menu. Who would have ever thought a fruit and yogurt parfait and hummus plate would be offered as school lunches? There are also still things like hamburgers, chicken tenders and nachos. But, at least there are healthy options.

The menu is also color-coded with green to red that represents "Go, Slow and WHOA!"

One quick question, when did Friday stop being pizza day?