Do Schools Have To Provide Alternatives For Children Of Special Need?
are gradually beginning to accommodate the requests of children
on special diets. If your child has a medical condition, secure
a note from your doctor.
the time to explain your child's needs to your school food service
provider. While this may sometimes be a difficult process, bear
in mind that your tax dollars are paying for the meals. Parents
who are firm often meet with some success. Not only are you benefiting
your child when you take the time to work with food service, you
are also paving the way for future students.
What Are Nutrient Standard Menus (NuMenus) And How Do They Compare
to Food Group Based Planning?
1996, lawmakers considered updating school menu planning by replacing
the food-based menu system with a nutrient-based one. The nutrient-based
system promised a higher standard of nutritional accountability
and greater flexibility in menu design. In the end, lawmakers
compromised and allowed food service providers to select either
system when planning their weekly menus.
Nutrient Standard approach, or NuMenus, calls upon schools to
provide a nutrional analysis of foods served. This means schools
may select whatever foods they choose, as long as the food meets
one third of the weekly recommended servings of vitamins and minerals,
and limits fat consumption to 30%, (only 10% of this can be from
the food-based system, introduced in 1956, mandates that schools
serve one item from each of the following foods groups: meat/meat
alternates, breads/grains, fruits/vegetables, and dairy. Both
systems must comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
in terms of daily recommended servings and limiting fat content.
NuMenu approach was driven in part by an increased awareness of
the value of plant-based foods; specifically that unrefined grains,
beans, vegetables, and fruit are high in essential vitamins and
minerals, fulfill protein requirements, contain little cholesterol,
and no fat.
the food-group plan, the menu is based primarily on meat and dairy
products -- both foods that are inherently high in fat, and limited
in nutritional value. This style of diet has negatively impacted
American health, and is understood to be a major component in
not only the current obesity epedemic, but also the increase in
heart disease, diabetes, asthma, allergies, certain cancers, and
advocates the use of the Nutrient standard menu. Not only is it
a more accurate measure of the actual nutrient quality of your
child's school lunch, it also provides the flexibility necessary
to provide alternative and healthier meal options.
it is estimated that only 15 - 20% of our nation's schools have
voluntarily initiated this change.
Schools Utilize Protein Sources Other Than Meat In School Lunches?
your child's school bases their menus on the Nutrient standard
system, then they may utilize any protein-rich food to satisfy
the protein requirement (including lentils, tofu, chickpeas, etc.)
The flexibility offered by the Nutrient Standard system is ideal
for those who want to offer a larger selection of plant based
your child's school is using a version of the food-based system,
soy alternatives will be more difficult to employ. But it is feasible.
With the approval of Alternate Protein Products (APPs) in 2000,
the School Lunch program now has the freedom to provide children
with meatless, cholesterol-free entrée alternatives.
qualify as a meat substitute there is a protein / weight ratio that
must be met. Many alternative soy products, including tofu, do not
meet this weight specification, and therefore do not qualify as
Alternate Protein Products.
USDA has allowed for protein alternatives because 1) there is
demand, and 2) protein alternatives are viable and potentially
Are Schools Allowed To Use Alternative Beverages Instead Of Milk?
Child Nutrition Act requires that all schools participating in the
School Lunch Program serve cow's milk with each meal. While schools
may purchase and serve alternative beverages, such as soymilk or
calcium fortified juice, they currently cannot serve them as a direct
replacement for milk.
health practitioners have challenged the resoluteness of the USDA
regarding this regulation because:
Milk has a high fat content,
2) This is the only part of the school meal that is not allowed
to be adjusted on the basis of a Nutrient Standard Approach, and
3) Alternative beverages need to be available for children with
varying medical conditions, as well as children who choose not to
drink milk for religious and personal reasons.
Does My Child Have To Drink Milk If She Doesn't Want To?
USDA does not require children to take or drink milk, although it
is encouraged for children in grades K through 8. Most schools utilize
the "Offer vs. Serve" policy allowing your child to choose
whether or not they will drink milk.
state regulatory and individual schools do have the option of
making milk a requirement with every meal, for every child (unless
they have a note from their doctor exempting them). If this is
the policy in your school, and you do not want your child to be
expected or forced to drink the milk, you will have to either
get a doctor's note, or an exemption from the school principle
Can I Visit My Child's School Cafeteria?
have a relationship with school lunches dating back to the 1800s.
While there is no official federal policy regarding a parent's
right to take lunch with their children, it is encouraged by the
USDA, the federal branch overseeing school lunches.
Schools Serve Vegetarian Alternatives?
Even with the approval of Nutrient Standard menus and APP's, schools
are still not likely to provide viable vegetarian alternatives unless
they are asked or encouraged, for several reasons:
People cook what they like and know.
If the food service provider seldom partakes
of vegetarian alternatives, they are less likely to consciously
include them in their menu selection.
2. Soy products and plant-based menus are relatively new to non-vegetarian
They are not, as yet, readily available
through commodity or bonus foods program, nor are they easily
available through school lunch suppliers.
Those with special dietary preferences often do not partake of
the school lunch program.
with growing interest and need, schools are becoming more likely
to consider plant-based alternatives. What is necessary is a good
understanding of how to introduce these foods successfully into
the school meal program and an increase in requests for these options.
Isn't It Easier Just To Pack A Healthy Meal?
you need or want to, clearly that is a viable option. But the hope
is for the school to eventually provide satisfactory meals. When
children don't take school lunches, everyone loses:
Your child loses the option of a warm, healthy meal.
• Parents have to shop, and spend more on their children's
• And school service providers lose customers, making
it harder to improve school meals.
if the school is not willing to address the needs of special diet
students you will have no choice but to pack a lunch. At the same
time, if the school can learn to make good tasting alternatives
that should be encouraged.
Is A Vegetarian Diet Healthy, And Will It Provide Necessary Nutrients?
"Appropriately planned vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian diets
satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and
promote normal growth." --- The American Dietetic Association's
position on vegetarian diets.
health is seldom an issue for vegetarians. In fact, as you have
probably understood from reading this website, plant-centered
diets are generally more healthy.
health requires understanding nutrition basics and proper meal
planning. If you are not yourself vegetarian, but you child is,
we recommend you take the time to both understand the benefits
of a vegetarian diet and learn how to cook vegetarian meals. The
section on Diet and Health will provide you important information
as well as links to relevant sites. Similarly, the subsection
titled, 'Home Recipes' offer a few selections to get you started.
By utilizing the links in this section, you will have many recipes
from which to choose.