District 211 Meals Meet, Exceed Nutrition Guidelines

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Preparing school lunches requires a lot of planning and making sure government nutritional standards are met, and High School District 211 has proven that it provides quality meals to its students.

The District received results from The School Meals Initiative Review, which is a nutrition audit of the lunches served within the District done in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education and Southern Illinois University. District 211 met and exceeded expectations for high school lunches.

Nutrition Guidelines Chart

Click to enlarge nutrition chart.

The review looks at every nutritional aspect of school meals and what is being served, including even the ketchup and mustard packets that are handed out. A week of menus is selected for review, and the District provides recipes, labels from food, and production records from what was prepared and served, to be analyzed. Lauren Hummel, director of food services, said District 211 met or exceeded all areas, except that the meals analyzed fell just short of the weekly goal for calories.

“The goal for our meals is that we are at 825 calories, less than 30 percent calories from fat, 10 percent or less of saturated fat, and meet guidelines for Vitamins A, C, calcium and iron,” Hummel said. “We met or exceeded standards on everything, except we fell 60 calories short of our goal over the week-long period.  With reduced calorie ranges established by the USDA for next school year and planned increases for portion sizes of fruits and vegetables, we anticipate that the calorie targets will be met.”

The guidelines were created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the USDA’s calories and nutrient guidelines for enhanced menu planning approaches in the National School Lunch Program, school meals should have 825 calories per week, with less than 30 percent fat and 10 percent saturated fat calories. (See chart for additional guidelines)

Although the District is not ranked against other schools, Hummel said District 211 is doing quite well. One thing that surprised the reviewers was the amount of milk consumed at each school. Hummel said it’s roughly 95 percent of students buying a complete lunch at each of the five District high schools.

“One of the things the reviewer commented on was the amount of milk that our students consume,” said Mary O’Connor, assistant director of food service. “They were surprised that our consumption of milk is as high as it is because we have a lot of high school students that drink milk as a part of the meal each day.”

Preparing the menu is looked at day by day, so it ensures all guidelines are met for that week. Part of what makes planning for adequate nutrient consumption difficult is that high schools operate on an “offer versus serve” system, which means students have the ability to decline portions of the meal. This is why creating healthier meals and offering the right combination of foods is so important. Some recipes come from the USDA, but most are from “scratch cooking,” where recipes are created at the schools based on guidelines, taste, and esthetics. Hummel said the District tries different combinations of recipes to make sure they meet guidelines and are appealing to students.

“Creating recipes is a lot of trial and error until we get to where we want to be,” Hummel said. “It can be challenging because, for example, we’re coming up with a vegetarian pasta salad for next year that will count for the protein and grains requirements. It can be made to taste good, but if it doesn’t have enough nutrients to meet guidelines, then we can’t serve it. We experiment with recipes to make sure they meet the components and are student approved.”

For more information about the food audit, contact Lauren Hummel at (847) 755-6680.