Some schools around the country are now dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program, complaining that too many students don't want healthy meals and that the cafeterias were losing money.
Check out cable channel TLC's list of the healthiest school lunch plans in the country, in no particular order.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina. The school district consistently keeps things healthy for its students. Vegetarian choices appear on the menu daily, including entrees like black-eyed peas with rice or spaghetti with marinara sauce. The district puts nutrition education into action with gardens in several of the schools. Students help maintain the gardens and are also encouraged to take home some of the crops.
Promise Academy, New York City. This Harlem charter school's lunch program includes a wide range of healthy, unprocessed food. Students enjoy from-scratch lunches like turkey lasagna with fresh zucchini, whole-wheat pasta with local squash, or Swiss chard. The school also holds monthly "farmer's markets" in the cafeteria, and offers cooking classes that parents and children can take together.
Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia. Registered dieticians plan all school meals to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The school system also plans to eliminate all trans fat from its lunch menus. In addition to offering several vegetarian entrees each day, students also have a daily vegan option. Students can choose from fare like hummus, whole grain breadsticks, veggie burgers and salad. A daily selection of fresh fruits and vegetables with dip are also available to students. Nondairy beverages like soymilk are offered as well.
Betty Shabazz International Charter School, Illinois. Winner of the 2007 Golden Carrot Award for exceptional school lunch programs, the Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago offers an entirely vegetarian menu. To provide necessary nutrients like iron and protein, school chefs create meals using tofu, beans, nuts and fortified cereals. Students can choose from meatless, low-fat meals like veggie burgers and dogs, burritos, veggie gumbo with tofu, jerk or curry tofu.
Pinellas County Schools, Florida. These schools offer their students a plethora of good, healthy choices for lunch. Menus include a variety of foods -- low-fat vegetarian entrees, an egg- and dairy-free salad and veggie burgers -- to keep students interested. Fresh fruit, side salads and vegetable side dishes are on the menu every day. In lieu of milk, students may choose fruit juice. Also available are bottled water and soymilk.
Kenton County Schools, Kentucky. This school system is notable not just for its cafeteria menu, but for setting a good example for other schools. Kenton's food service director started small, removing fried potato chips and sugary fruit drinks from the cafeteria. Phasing out vending machines on school grounds was risky, as these machines provide much-needed revenue to schools. Popular meals include healthy pizza with a 50 percent whole grain crust and low-fat cheese, baked chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries.
Berkeley Unified School District, California. This school district is home to the original "Edible Schoolyard," a concept created by famed restaurateur Alice Waters. Several schools planted one-acre gardens on school grounds. Teachers used the garden to teach students about local food, biology, nutrition and science. Students and teachers tended the gardens together during special classes. They learned about different vegetables and herbs by taste testing their harvest. The idea was that if the children were more invested in where their food came from, they'd be more willing to experiment and make healthier food choices.
Montgomery Public Schools, Maryland. This district encourages students to make the right choices by offering a wide variety of healthy foods. The school offers no less than four low-fat vegetable side dishes each day, as well as low-fat salad dressings and baby carrots. Students can choose from several healthy vegetarian options each day, like black bean burgers. The district also worked closely with the United Soybean Board to incorporate these vegetable-based protein items into their menu.
Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C. Although it's been around since 1883, this private school entered the public consciousness in November 2008, with the election of President Barack Obama. When the Obamas announced their two daughters would attend Sidwell Friends, the world got a look inside the school.
The cafeteria emphasizes local vendors, as well as organic and fair-trade ingredients. It strives for a seasonable approach to meal planning to ensure the freshest ingredients are always available. Food waste becomes compost, which is then used to fertilize school gardens.
Ross School, New York. A private school located in the Hamptons, New York, Ross works with a dietician to make sure its students have healthy choices. Students in every grade take nutrition classes, as well as learn about food history. Students eat from plates and use metal (not plastic) flatware, bus their own tables and sort their own recycling. The menu revolves around seasonal, local and organic ingredients.
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