With new federal guidelines outlining the types of food allowed in the school lunch line, students are beginning to be more health-conscious as they decide what to put on their trays.
As Sullivan South High School seniors Jenna Harris and Emily Cox sampled the various items Wednesday at NETCO’s annual school food show, the two students were surprised at the sheer amount of healthy options featured at vendor booths.
“It’s really impressive how much variety there is. It’s actually healthy,” Harris said.
Like the hundreds of other students at the food show at Freedom Hall Civic Center, Harris and Cox tried a myriad of products, including sweet potato fries, fruit bars, whole grain muffins and granola bars.
Their favorite sample was a dessert made with sweet potatoes.
“It’s like real food. It’s good,” Cox said.
NETCO, a school food service cooperative founded in 1997 that consists of 13 school systems in the region, serves an average of 50,000 students per day.
The food show is hosted by NETCO every year to find out what students prefer in their school meals.
Students are given evaluation forms to rate the food they try as they navigate booths featuring everything from fruit juice to low-sodium barbecue.
Scores will be tabulated by NETCO officials in order to determine what types of foods kids want to see in the cafeteria.
“What the students are seeing today are some products that we’re currently serving, but we also have some products that are new that we would like to consider for bid,” said Karen McGahey, food services supervisor for Johnson City Schools.
As school systems are dealing with new guidelines set in motion by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, McGahey said vendors have been very proactive in offering plenty of healthy options, including smaller serving sizes and lower sodium levels, while encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables.
“We’re very proud of our vendors for giving us some good variety. We’re more than just pizza and french fries,” she said. “I think what we’re seeing is a lot more child-appropriate serving sizes, where before you might have something that has three bread servings, and that’s really too much from a calorie perspective.”