For Abdul Lindsay, executive director of school nutrition in McDuffie County, the challenge is making the children comfortable, but not too comfortable. Mr. Lindsay has changed the county's middle school and high school express menu to include proper nutrition choices.
"The express menu is composed of comfort foods for kids," Mr. Lindsay said. "Studies show that children will always choose their comfort foods, such as pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers or hotdogs. The challenge is the frequency in which they eat it."
Joshua Germany, a fourth grader at Norris Elementary, eats lunch.
The new express menu offers middle and high school students a second choice for the regular menu items. The express items are also listed as a menu, so all items are not offered every day, controlling the number of times "comfort foods" are available.
"You set the child up for nutritional failure that way, if you give them all the choices every day," Mr. Lindsay said. "I'm a registered dietician, so certain things I'm just not going to sign off approval for."
Second-choice items listed on the express menu are cheeseburgers, beef nuggets, ham and cheese sandwiches, hot wings, hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, fish sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, hoagies, fries and tater tots.
For the elementary students, Mr. Lindsay said his goal is nutritional education. The elementary menus offer the children the regular menu item or a salad as a second choice every day. Salads offered are chef, vegetable and cheese, chicken tender, and chicken or tuna on romaine.
"Offering them a salad as a second choice trains them to make a choice of nutritional value," Mr. Lindsay said.
Mr. Lindsay said he tries to write the menus based on nutrition, but tries to modify behavior by offering proper choices. The elementary students also have "express" items offered some days as their regular menu item, but not every day.
School menus also change with the seasons. This year, the winter menus offer new hot soups such as potato, minestrone, or vegetable chili; or homemade casseroles such as beef shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie or lasagna.
"I'm trying everything I can to expose them to new foods. If I can get them to eat, then I've done my job," Mr. Lindsay said. "Many of these children don't get to eat good at home."
Coming to school food service from healthcare food service, Mr. Lindsay had some things to learn. In healthcare, Mr. Lindsay wrote menus for all 365 days in each year. He followed the same style when he came to the school system, but discovered the program didn't work with a five-day, 10-month schedule.
"A lot of people got on my case about the quarter-style menus," he said. "I had to learn from it, but we're all adjusted to it now."
Mr. Lindsay said the new menus save paper, time and money because the school system designs and prints the menus themselves. The new menus are also available on the internet at www.mcduffie.k12.ga.us.