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Study: Public Schools Should Increase Variety in Menu, Provide Better Nutrition Information

An independent firm studied the healthiness and freshness of schools' food.

An independent firm studied the quality of food offerings and operations at Fairfax County Public Schools recently. Patch File Photo
An independent firm studied the quality of food offerings and operations at Fairfax County Public Schools recently. Patch File Photo

By Jennifer van der Kleut

In February, Fairfax County Public Schools hired the independent firm Prismatic Services to study its current food offerings for students, and suggest ideas to increase the nutrition in school breakfasts and lunches and reduce the use of processed foods, additives and preservatives.

Prismatic presented a report of its findings to the school board this month.

The report presented 28 recommendations for improvements in the school system's food plans and offerings. It praised 12 current practices. 

Highlights of the recommendations included:

  • Providing more information on nutrition, additives and preservatives, and improving online data for parents on student food choices.
  • Increasing the rotation of the menu cycle to include more variety in meal choices.
  • Adopting ideas from the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, a program of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition program that is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Adopting new policies for local purchasing, lunch start times, vending machines, additives and preservatives, and fresh fruit and vegetable bars.
  • Improving cafeteria reports, financial analysis, and participation analysis.
  • Adding supervisory staff and trainer positions.

Acceptable current policies included:

  • Maintaining a reserve fund.
  • Increasing locally purchased produce.
  • Providing free meals to reduced-price eligible students.
  • Operating safe and sanitary kitchens.
  • Removing ice cream vending machines.
  • Supporting nutrition education.
  • Using a central warehouse for dry and frozen items.

The report was based on site visits; surveys of high school students, parents and school staff and administrators; internal assessments; and peer data and best practices from other school districts.

Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement it will analyze the financial impact of implementing the study's recommendations and draft possible timelines for implementation for the school board to consider in January.

What do you think of your child's menu options at school? Tell us in the comments below.

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