Students at Marshall High School are getting some new, fresh, healthy food options in their cafeteria this year.
Serving as a pilot site for the entire school system, Marshall’s new “Statesmen Station” features a salad bar, fresh fruit, deli sandwiches and Asian noodles.
New menu items include a Waldorf salad with cranberries, black bean and corn salad, falafel, and a yogurt parfait with fresh fruit.
The new food bar sits front and center in Marshall’s newly renovated cafeteria, not hidden behind doors like the traditional food serving lines. Students were involved in designing and marketing the new station, as well as developing new recipes.
“You all are on the cutting edge of promoting healthy foods and healthy lifestyles,” said David Esquith, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students, speaking at a kickoff event for the new food bar.
In addition to making healthier food choices attractive to Marshall students, having a pilot site allows the school system to try out new menu options before expanding them to other schools, said Penny McConnell, director of food and nutrition services for Fairfax County Public Schools.
Her department already uses focus groups and student food tastings when developing new items.
“Nothing goes on a menu unless the kids have approved it,” McConnell said. “They’re our customers.”
The parent group Real Food for Kids worked with the School Board and Food and Nutrition Services to establish the pilot program. President JoAnne Hammermaster said they understand it will take time to change a school system as large as Fairfax County, which is why they wanted to start with a pilot program.
“A lot of kids have never tried some of these things,” she said. The goal is to “get them exposed to it to get those healthy habits.”
Real Food for Kids would like to see the approach expand to other schools over time, particularly as schools are being renovated.
Superintendent Karen Garza said the pilot program is just one example of efforts to improve the quality of school lunches and educate students about nutrition.
“The health and overall well-being of our children needs to be mission critical,” she said.
McConnell said changing school menus can be complicated because all lunches must meet federal standards, appeal to parents’ desire for healthy choices, be affordable and appeal to students. In addition, they’re serving students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and working to meet the needs of those with special diets.
“The challenge is to meet everyone’s expectations,” she said.