FRIDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- Every day, Carol Chong
oversees the serving of about 300,000 meals to hungry students in
the fourth-largest school district in the United States.
Chong, a registered dietitian and director of food and menu
management for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, has a food
budget of about $60 million to meet that goal.
The move by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make school
meals healthier will be a challenge, Chong said, with cost the main
"It doesn't seem like it, but you have a very small amount of money to work with," she said. "Healthier foods tend to be more expensive. They are more perishable, with a shorter shelf life. They can't be processed as much."
However, Miami-Dade County is fairly far along in terms of
meeting proposed USDA guidelines for healthy school meals, Chong
said, because the district has been improving its menu for
"A lot of the changes that have been proposed, we are ahead of the curve," she said. "I think many school districts are like that. A lot of us have been proactive."
For example, several years ago the district went from whole milk
to 2 percent milk and then to 1 percent milk and skim milk. "Even
our flavored chocolate milk is at a half-percent fat content," she
Standard lunchroom offerings have been improved as well. The
district serves up a reduced-fat, all-beef hot dog now and has
gotten rid of processed chicken nuggets in favor of whole-muscle
chicken tenders, Chong said.
They even serve a healthier pizza these days. The crust contains
up to 51 percent whole grains, and the cheese is reduced-fat.
"We've been doing that for five years," she said.
Trans fats have been eliminated. "We haven't had trans fat in
our food in three years," Chong said. "We had all manufacturers
take them out. We had people like Frito-Lay having to change their
products because we wouldn't sell them." Because of the size of the
school district, she said, the companies complied.
All the meal changes occurred under the noses of the kids, who
apparently were none the wiser.
"No, I don't tell them. Why would I? And they don't notice," Chong said, laughing. "We haven't advertised it -- because if they knew it was better for them, they wouldn't eat it."
And that's a problem for the future, she said. Kids aren't
learning how to eat healthy at home so schools are feeling pressure
to step up and teach them about nutrition -- if only the funding
"It's part of the educational process to teach these kids about healthy eating, which is the weakest link because we don't have the funding or the staff for nutrition education," Chong said. "The concern about obesity is not within a majority of the parents. It's a concern with community leaders and health experts. If it were a parental concern, you'd see parents practicing better nutrition within their own households."
A companion article explains the federal government's efforts to
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