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School lunches embrace better nutrition

Kim Gown, a Federal Way School District kitchen assistant,  packages corn dog meals for elementary school lunches. As part of the district
Kim Gown, a Federal Way School District kitchen assistant, packages corn dog meals for elementary school lunches. As part of the district's efforts to make lunches healthier, the corn dogs are made with turkey and the french fries are baked.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

Restaurants in King County are scrambling to rid menus of trans fats since the county issued a ban on their use this summer.

The ban will be effective Feb. 1, 2009.

In Federal Way schools, however, nutrition services officials are breathing a sigh of relief. Although the ban doesn't apply to school districts, most King County districts are making an effort to comply.

A summer inventory of the menu and ingredients of school lunches in Federal Way revealed minimal trans fats, said Edith Rice, assistant director of nutrition services.

"I was really shocked," Rice said. "I thought they'd be in everything and we'd only be able to serve lettuce or something."

"We found out that our stuff basically doesn't have trans fats to begin with," she said.

The only items found with any significant trans fats were margarine and shortening, Rice said. A few other items had minimal amounts of trans fats — less than a half percent.

As for the shortening and margarine, kitchen staff are mixing it with new products free of trans fats so that the items don't go to waste. They plan to eliminate their supply in the next few weeks, Rice said.

Trans fat has been identified by health officials as a cause of obesity and heart disease, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil, increasing the shelf life and flavor of foods containing the fat.

Trans fats, sometimes called partially hydrogenated oils, are often found in vegetable shortenings, margarine, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other items.

Rice said the Federal Way School District constantly works to provide healthy food for students. All King County districts follow nutritional standards set forth by the National School Lunch Program.

In Federal Way, kitchen officials aim to monitor products and portion sizes of school lunches. There are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable offerings, Rice said. Whole wheat rolls are served and whole wheat is added to the pizza dough. The students haven't noticed, Rice said.

"Once they find out the food's good for them, they won't eat it," she joked.

Mary Asplund, nutrition services director, said school lunches are the healthiest and most affordable choice for students. Her daughter, now in college, ate school lunches throughout her school years.

"I knew that by sending her to eat with the school lunch program, she would be getting a very well rounded meal," Asplund said. "She's nice and slender and fit, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to pack a similar lunch for her at the same cost, with all of the nutrients that are needed."

School lunches range from $2 to $2.50.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

The average elementary school lunch contains 680 calories composed of the following:

30 percent calories from fat and 10 percent calories from saturated fat

16 percent calories from protein

55 percent calories from carbohydrates.

Source: Federal Way School District nutrition services department. Data for secondary schools was unavailable due to larger selection and ala carte choices.

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