Fairfax County Public Schools: A
Fairfax County has 238 schools with 140,000 students and is the 13th largest district in the nation. In previous reports, Fairfax County was among the top contenders, and this year, the district scored the highest grade.
Fairfax County aims to provide nutritious foods that will prepare students to learn and succeed. Students can choose from a rotating variety of vegan options, including veggie patties, spaghetti with marinara sauce, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Every day, students can choose between two entrée salads. Soymilk, 100 percent juice, and water are offered as dairy alternatives to all students at à la carte prices.
The food service department encourages healthy eating by teaching nutrition and cooking classes. Nutrition programs include the “Give Me 5! Colors That Jive!” campaign to help promote fruits and vegetables to students. An online nutrient calculator allows parents and students to evaluate the nutrition of snack foods. Nutrition education is an integral part of the curriculum from preschool through 12th grade, and the school cafeteria serves as a laboratory for applying knowledge and skills taught in the classroom by food service personnel.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District: A-
More than 126,000 students attend 155 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district. The district shines by offering a vegan entrée of a variety of rice and bean dishes daily in all school cafeterias as part of the salad bar. Charlotte-Mecklenburg could improve its score by highlighting this option on the menu and providing some incentive to students to choose this healthy salad bar more often. The district also offers another unique vegan choice: sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches. Other highlights include a daily offering of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including such items as turnip greens and spinach, as well as a daily salad bar. The cafeterias in the district’s elementary schools do not have vending machines, though they can be found elsewhere in the schools.
The menu clearly defines the different types of vegetarian options and encourages students to try meatless meals at least once a week. Positive nutrition messages are written on cafeteria bulletin boards daily to encourage healthy eating.
Pinellas County Schools: A-
The Pinellas County public school district is the 22nd largest district in the nation, with 135 schools and more than 148,000 students. Lunchrooms in the district offer a number of healthful options, including 15 different entrée salads. Each school decides individually which salads to serve depending on their students’ preferences. The farmer’s market salad is particularly healthy: It is loaded with veggies and has no meat, cheese, or eggs, which means it has no cholesterol and much less saturated fat than other items. Additional healthy options available for lunch on a varying basis, depending on the school, include vegetarian wraps, pasta with marinara sauce, veggie burgers, and vegetarian chili. Students can purchase water à la carte, and juice is served as a side item.
The district encourages students to make wise food choices by marking healthy menu items that contribute less than 30 percent of total calories from fat with a “Hardy Heart” symbol. Dietitians provide nutrition education as requested by classrooms and physical education instructors.
To improve its score, Pinellas County could find low-fat replacements for some of its unhealthy school lunch offerings, which include such high-fat foods as cheeseburgers, a chicken patty on a bun, and sausage on a bun.
San Diego City Unified School District: A-
San Diego is the 16th largest school district in the United States, with 140,000 students in more than 200 schools. All San Diego school meals meet California Shape Standards for nutrition, which are stricter than USDA requirements. The district encourages schools to reduce fat, sugar, and sodium in foods, as well as to boost fiber. San Diego schools serve vegetarian entrées daily, including a bean burrito and a teriyaki veggie burger. There is also a daily salad bar with a variety of fresh fruits; a variety of vegetables, including the Harvest of the Month vegetable; and side items such as beans, walnuts, and salsa. To promote greater health, there are no vending machines within the schools.
San Diego promotes good nutrition through a series of demonstrations given across the district, and the district has an ongoing series of themed events that promote several on-site school gardens. In addition, the district participates in the Harvest of the Month program, which features a different locally grown produce item each month.
Broward County Public Schools: B+
Broward County is the fifth largest school district in the nation and serves more than 274,000 students in 264 schools. The district does an excellent job of serving fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables. Students in Broward County can choose fresh fruit or juice instead of dessert. To improve the overall healthfulness of meals, the food service department also eliminated all baked desserts at lunch. Vegetable sides are offered daily as part of a salad bar, and this fall salads will be offered in pre-packaged to-go cups. The district will also offer a choice of three salads, including a very healthy, all-vegetarian salad with beans, seeds, and vegetables. Homemade whole-wheat bread is served with the salads, and all pre-made buns and breads are also whole wheat. Students can also choose more fresh fruits, as well as vegetables and side dishes such as black beans or baked beans, mixing and matching as they like to make a meal. This is part of the district’s “Choose It Your Way Campaign,” which aims to meet the needs of all students. To further improve the program, Broward County could cut down on high-fat, meat- and dairy-centered main entrées, such as the hot dog on a bun, macaroni and cheese, and bologna and cheese sandwich, and replace them with more nutritious options.
The school food service department promotes nutrition through various activities, including parental input and participation, health fairs, and creative nutrition contests for the students. Broward County plans to expand its “Good to Go” program, which encourages healthy eating by offering a toy to students who choose a healthy meal that includes both fruits and vegetables. The district also promotes health by not allowing vending machines in elementary schools.
New York City School District: B+
The New York City School District is the largest in the nation, and over the past few years, the district has taken some important steps toward improving the healthfulness of its school lunch offerings. New York City caters to many different religious and ethnic populations. For example, schools with a high Muslim population serve more vegetarian options to accommodate religious restrictions on certain meats. Vegan entrées range from vegetarian nuggets with dipping sauce and garden burgers on a whole-wheat bun to green salads. Healthy side dishes include Cajun red beans and rice, vegetable fried rice, and turmeric-scented herb rice. The district uses only whole-grain breads and has banned the sale of whole milk and flavored low-fat milks.
Additionally, the district began the SchoolFood Plus Initiative, a multi-agency collaborative effort to help enhance student health and achievement by improving schools’ food and environment. The program includes nutrition education and focuses on bringing local, seasonal produce into schools. The program exists in 63 schools and is expanding to 100 schools this fall. Many of the program’s healthy plant-based recipes are used and served in the district’s schools. Healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, are heavily marketed to students, and taste-tests help promote new items.
New York City could improve its score by making nondairy beverages available to all students at lunch and by promoting its range of vegetarian options.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools: B+
Miami-Dade County, which includes 356 schools and more than 365,784 students, is the fourth largest district in the nation. The menu sports a variety of regular vegan options, including such items as a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a Creole beans and rice bowl, baked potatoes with low-fat toppings, and a vegan black bean and rice bowl. Miami could improve its offerings by making these options available every day. The district also offers a number of healthy vegetable sides daily, usually consisting of a salad and one hot vegetable. Although fresh fruits are available a few days a week, more options would be a positive next step. The cafeterias serve calcium-fortified orange juice as an alternative to dairy milk for all students who would rather drink juice.
The health/science curriculum includes nutrition education, and teachers can request additional nutrition education materials from the food service department. The nutrition education program uses school gardens and cooking demonstrations.
Seattle Public Schools: B
Seattle Public Schools includes 104 schools and more than 44,000 students. Seattle highlights the importance of eating five to nine fruits and vegetables a day by serving a tossed green salad daily with a variety of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables. Specialty choices include snow peas, fresh spinach, jicama, and fresh Washington state apples. Students can choose from a rotating list of vegetarian entrée items that are sometimes vegan, such as the veggie burger or burritos with beans and salsa. The district could improve its score by offering more low-fat vegetarian items and fewer high-fat, high-cholesterol entrées such as the Grand Slam French Break Pizza with Chicken and the deli ham and cheese sandwich.
Seattle educates students by printing nutrition information and health-related activities on its menus. The district has also created the “Flavors of Diversity” program, which features menu items from different cultures and teaches children about the food traditions of other areas. Vending machines do not sell soda, and all snacks must meet strict nutrition standards.
Dallas Independent School District: B
Dallas Independent School District is the nation’s 12th largest district, with 217 schools and 161,000 students. To encourage good nutrition and give students an easy way to make healthier food choices, Dallas offers the “Power Pack” meal daily. This meal derives less than 30 percent of calories from fat and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, and it exceeds the recommended dietary allowances for vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium. The food service department rewards students who choose the Power Pack meal by including stickers, pencils, and other small prizes.
The district also offers even healthier high-fiber, zero-cholesterol entrée items, including rice and bean bowls, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and baked potatoes. Dallas could encourage more students to eat these items by featuring them more regularly on the menu. Students are able to choose 100 percent fruit juice as a component of their meal for no additional cost. The district does not allow the use of vending machines during the school day in elementary schools.
Montgomery County Public Schools: B
Montgomery County, which has 195 schools and 139,387 students, is the 17th largest district in the nation. Each day, Montgomery County serves a variety of vegetarian entrées, though these items are not printed on the menu. Vegan items are also available every day upon request. Vegetarian/vegan entrées include a vegan chicken-style patty, meatless chili, penne pasta with marinara sauce, pancakes with spiced pears, and quesadillas. All cafeterias serve 100 percent juice to all students.
Every school is part of Team Nutrition and therefore offers nutrition education materials in the cafeteria along with support materials for the classroom. Posters emphasize the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. However, the district serves very few fresh or low-fat vegetable side dishes or fresh fruits.
The Montgomery County Public Schools Division of Food & Nutrition Services collaborated with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction to create other posters that emphasize the importance of physical activity and eating healthfully. A monthly newsletter also includes nutrition education. All cafeteria managers also receive updates on nutrition information at training meetings.
Palm Beach County School District: B
Palm Beach County has 170,000 students in 163 public schools. Daily fruit and vegetable menu choices include a choice of fresh fruits, cupped fruits, salad cups and garden salads, or cooked vegetables to accompany the main entrées. Students have access to 100 percent fruit juice daily, and they can also choose a fresh fruit. Palm Beach offers a rotating list of vegetarian options, including vegetarian wraps, vegetarian chili, vegetarian Mexican pizza, and lasagna, but the district offers very few low-fat vegan entrées.
The food service department gives nutrition education talks to both students and teachers. The kitchen is also available upon request for tours and nutrition or cooking classes. Palm Beach County also offers students the Health-e Living Web site, an extensive online nutrition education program. One feature allows students to select options for lunch and receive a nutrition analysis of their selections. The food service department also regulates vending machines within the cafeteria. All products sold in these machines must meet criteria outlined by the staff dietitians.
Hillsborough County School District: B-
With 235 schools and 194,000 students, Hillsborough County School District is the 10th largest in the nation.
In December 2004, state auditors performed a nutritional analysis of Hillsborough’s school lunch program and found that saturated fat levels exceeded the federal limit by half a percentage point. The district immediately corrected the problem by altering menus to reduce fat content. Because of that quick corrective action, the district earned 25 points in this report for meeting USDA standards.
The district’s menu still features too many high-fat foods, including hot dogs, jumbo pork tacos, and mozzarella cheese sticks. On a positive note, the district offers a vegetarian choice most days, as well as peanut butter, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and beans upon request. The district can improve the healthfulness of its meals overall by incorporating more of these healthier protein sources into the regular menu.
To encourage healthy eating, cafeterias feature a "smart choice" food or vegetable of the month each Wednesday and give kids fun facts about each item. Hillsborough does not place restrictions on what may be sold in vending machines, though fresh fruit and vegetable options are available.
School District of La Crosse, Wisconsin: C+
The School District of La Crosse has 15 schools and 7,500 students. La Crosse is fortunate to participate in the Department of Defense fresh fruit and vegetable program. This allows the district to offer salad bars and serve three to five different fresh fruits daily. Although vegetarian items are served some days, the district could improve its score by serving low-fat vegetarian favorites as regular items on the menu and by removing a number of unhealthy items such as chicken nuggets, cheese dippers, and meatballs and gravy.
The food service department held an “extreme salad bar makeover contest” to encourage healthy eating and promote fruit and vegetable consumption. Schools in the district were charged with creating an interesting theme and improving salad bar offerings. This contest was highly successful, and the salad bars remain in many of the schools to help students continue to eat more fruits and vegetables. Promotion of these items in all schools would improve the district’s score and improve students’ health. Because of the recent implementation of a local wellness policy, the district does not permit the use of vending machines in cafeterias during the school day.
San Francisco Unified School District: C
The San Francisco Unified School District includes more than 160 schools and 60,000 students. Each day, San Francisco schools provide a vegetarian (but not vegan) entrée selection on their menus. These entrées include cheese pizza, grilled cheese on wheat, bean and cheese burritos, taco pockets, and macaroni and cheese with green beans. To improve its grade, the district could reduce the amount of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol served to students by removing the cheese from its vegetarian items. San Francisco schools do offer a variety of fresh fruit throughout the week.
The district’s Health Services Department teaches healthy cooking classes to students. The food service department also hosts a variety of food- and nutrition-related activities throughout the school year. These include annual taste-tests when students come back to school and occasional taste-testing events during semesters. One school in the district currently has a model salad bar project.
Oakland Unified School District: C
Oakland Unified School District is composed of 134 schools and 49,214 students. Each day, students can find a vegetarian option and are served juice upon request. However, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the only available cholesterol-free entrées. The menu features many high-fat items, including double-stuff cheese pizza, chili-cheese dogs, and chili-cheese nachos. Fruit and vegetable offerings are also limited, with just one fruit and vegetable choice daily.
Many of Oakland’s schools, including the majority of elementary schools, provide nutrition education. Each school year, the district chooses three nutrition themes and prepares related activities and materials. For example, one theme this past year was “smart snacking,” which included a broccoli taste-test, materials for teachers (including posters, handouts, and bookmarks), and information for parents. The Harvest of the Month newsletter, which includes different sections with classroom activities, goes to some teachers at 24 schools. Four of those schools receive produce boxes to go with the newsletter, and the district is currently trying to expand this program to all 24 schools. One school piloted a food preparation/cooking demo in which kids made food items. Next year, this program will expand to serve three schools.
Minneapolis Public Schools: D+
Minneapolis Public Schools has 103 schools and 37,865 students. Although vegetarian options are available daily, they appear on the menu only twice a week; on other days, students must specifically request them. Vegetarian entrées include veggie burgers, bean and cheese burritos, macaroni and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Vegan options are limited, and the district’s score could be improved by increasing vegan options and by eliminating the high-fat dairy products to make vegetarian items healthier. Cafeterias serve a minimum of three fruit and vegetable sides daily. Fresh fruit and vegetables are offered nearly every day and include garden salads, mini carrots, bananas, apples, and orange smiles.
At this time, the district does not offer any major nutrition initiatives or nutrition education, but there are plans to implement nutrition education next year with the new school wellness policy.
Hancock County Schools: D
Hancock County is a smaller district, with six schools and 4,100 students. The district has made serving fresh fruits and vegetables a priority, offering at least one fresh fruit and fresh vegetable or low-fat side dish daily. However, Hancock could improve its score by replacing some high-fat, high-calorie main entrées—such as the BBQ pulled-pork burger and the chicken patty sandwich—with healthier choices.
Hurricane Katrina made the 2005-2006 school year a difficult one for Hancock County schools. Despite that challenge, the district is taking some positive steps toward better health. In the fall, kindergarten teachers will include a fruit and vegetable 5-a-day program in their lesson plans. Under the guidance of a new wellness policy, schools are taking out carbonated drinks and high-fat snacks and replacing them with healthier low-fat choices, including granola bars, trail mix, baked chips, and fruit. Officials may make other changes as they begin to further implement the district’s new wellness policy.
Memphis City School District: F
The Memphis City School District, which includes 191 schools and more than 119,000 students, is the 21st largest in the nation. Memphis schools have very limited vegetarian choices—pizza or cheese ravioli about once a week. Further, Lactaid milk (an enzymatically treated milk product) is the only available alternative to regular dairy milk, and this is only offered to students with a doctor’s note.
Cafeterias do offer four fruits and vegetables every day, although sometimes the fruit is canned or in frozen form (for example, cherry freeze and orange freeze). To improve its grade, the district could offer nondairy beverages, especially to children who are allergic to milk or choose not to drink it, and plant-based entrées that do not include high-fat meat and dairy products.
As part of an interesting nutrition education effort, a registered dietitian develops and implements nutrition education programs in the schools. These programs include grocery shopping tours, healthy cooking classes, and taste-testing parties.