Healthful school lunch options abound, students eating it up
The salad bar, which gives District 64 students healthier food options, awaits a taker in the Emerson Middle School cafeteria during eighth-grade lunch on Aug. 27. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2012 1:31AM
PARK RIDGE — Karen Rutili is always thrilled to hear all about her child’s new favorite fruit that she tried at school during lunch.
And she is just as thrilled to receive emails from parents who say they are equally excited about the healthful food items their children are trying at school.
Rutili is co-president of the PTO at Roosevelt elementary School in Park Ridge-Niles District 64, which began using Healthy Kids Kitchen last year as its lunch service.
“It’s getting such a phenomenal, overwhelming response,” Rutili said, adding that this is the first year Roosevelt will be offering hot meals three days a week.
Rutili said that instead of offering things like regular old pizza and hot dogs, they now offer whole-wheat pizza and turkey dogs. They also focus on fruits, vegetables and protein, and offer tasty-but-healthful dishes such as Swedish meatballs and buttered noodles, and turkey and stuffing.
“We are constantly looking for healthier entrees to serve our kids,” said District 64 Superintendent Philip Bender.
Bender said the PTOs of the elementary schools have become very involved and they run the hot-lunch programs at the schools, some providing hot lunches one day a week and others a few days a week.
“They’ve really taken that bull by the horn,” Bender said of the PTO’s involvement and dedication to finding more-healthful food options for elementary students in the district.
The district also no longer allows students to bring in treats for parties.
“We’re trying to educate people to try to move away from rewards that have to do with food,” Bender said, adding that the district is trying to emphasize that fun activities should be the focus of school parties, as opposed to sweets.
Bender said officials are also being cautious about children who have severe allergies, such as peanut allergies.
“Eating healthy and having our kids healthy is very important to me as superintendent,” Bender said.
District 64 has a Wellness Council that has a goal of encouraging better eating at school, physical activity and teaching youngsters about the importance of good nutrition. The council is composed of various staff members from each school, the superintendent and a parent representative.
Providing healthful food options has also been a big initiative at Maine Township High School District 207’s three schools.
“Over the last three solid years we’ve been making a lot of different changes,” said Anne Benson, food-services director at Maine South High School, who works for Quest Food Management. “All schools have had a makeover.”
Each school has various lunch lines that offer a variety of food choices, including vegetarian options and salad bars.
“It’s driven by what the kids are wanting,” Benson said.
Every school varies in what type of foods are provided based on the amount of space in the cafeteria, but some have an Italian-food line, a grill line that provides items such as grilled-chicken sandwiches, and a deli line.
“There is something for everybody,” said Benson, noting that the schools try to introduce new food items gradually.
Benson said the made-to-order deli line, which is similar to the format of a Subway restaurant, is very popular among students.
According to Benson it has been the district’s mission to move away from processed foods, and to provide entrees and sauces made from scratch.
Benson said many of the students are great dining consumers at restaurants, and they expect similar options from their school cafeterias.