LAST YEAR, 1,300 pounds of broccoli and 1,254 pounds of bean sprouts topped the 262,500 pounds of lettuce in the Farfax County lunch program.
Twenty years ago, vegetables were the morsels non grata in the school lunch program. Just last week, 170 Groveton High School students were allowed 20 minutes extra to eat lunch because the lines at the salad bar were so long.
Dorothy Van Egmund-Panell, director of the Fairfax school food service and a food service worker since 1964, says, "The salads are so much more popular today than they used to be. Things they wouldn't touch they'll eat on a salad bar."
Fairfax schools exemplify the push by food service directors nationwide to include more nutritious foods in the school lunch program. It is to programs like these--most specifically one in Fulton County, Ga.--that the members of the National Nutritional Foods Association point when they talk about more nutritious lunches.
The NNFA represents about 50 percent of the health food industry--processors, retailers and distributors. The products sold by such people, some of which were available Feb. 24 for sampling in the Dirksen Building, are, in large part, processed.
Ironically, it seems that although NNFA sings the praises of new efforts to bring natural foods to the school lunch, these lunch programs use fewer processed foods as they adopt the healthy approach. When you talk to the directors of such programs they concentrate more on carrots than carob. They want to replace sweet desserts with fruit. They bake foods with part whole-wheat flour.
The Fulton County School lunch program emphasizes lean meats (fish without breading, chicken and lean beef). Like Fairfax schools, it has "very successful" salad bars, according to food service director Sara Sloan. Students are taught to sprout seeds in the classroom, then find them offered on the salad bar at lunch.
In both lunch programs, food additives (colors and artificial flavors) are avoided. Panell says cooks at Fairfax schools bake cakes from scratch because no cake mixes without preservatives are available to them. In Fairfax, sweet desserts are offered a la carte--students pay 25 cents extra to get them. In Fulton County, (homemade) baked desserts are offered twice a week. The students get fruit the rest of the week.
It was 1976 when Sloan gathered her food service managers for lessons in cooking whole foods. A pilot project followed, which allowed students in four area high schools to choose the type of food they wanted to eat. After a 30-day trial period, whole foods proved a popular alternative and a grade school asked to join the experiment.
Now, six years later, the whole school system eats whole foods, dries whole foods, learns whole foods, grows whole foods.
"You can't just give them food in the cafeteria, you have to teach them why they want to eat it," says Sloan, who has put together a recipe and idea booklet for students called "Children Cook Naturally." The booklet documents the students' experiments growing sprouts, cooking, dehydrating foods and more.
Sloan works gradually introducing new students to whole foods. In the fall, children are served foods made with unbleached flour and, with time, learn about baked goods made with whole wheat flour. Before the program started, says Sloan, first graders were the easiest to feed; now, they present the difficulty.
"Somehow," says Sloan, "they think if it's not a shake, burger or bag of fries that it's just not good eating." To counter that syndrome, students learn about whole grain products through cooking classes, because Sloan says she's never seen a child refuse to eat something he's cooked.
Parents seem to welcome this kind of change. Panell says parents helped form the additive-free menus for Fairfax meals. In Fulton County, the parents took a while to catch on, but eventually grew comfortable with the program. "It took three years for parents to really wake up to what we are trying to do," says Sloan. Now she produces a parents' nutrition newsletter.
The food service employs one person working 6 1/2 hours daily for every 100 meals. Sloan says she has remained within her budget with the help of such governement subsidies as unlimited quantities of brown rice, oatmeal and bulgur (whole wheat kernels).
In some cases, says Panell, "natural" food can cost a lot more. Pure vanilla extract costs $21 a gallon; artificial vanilla flavoring costs $4 a gallon.
But the Fairfax people have convinced an ice cream manufacturer to produce additive-free ice cream. When companies bid for the school system's business, they know their foods must contain no BHA, BHT (antioxidants used as preservatives) and no MSG (monosodium glutamate--a flavor enhancer).
Depending more on natural foods, according to these food service directors, means relying more on fresh foods and embellishing them as little as possible with salt, sweeteners and preservatives.
The following recipes are some of Sara Sloan's favorites from the Fulton County school lunch program. The recipes come from a spiral notebook entitled "Children Cook Naturally," and can be prepared by children.
Although Sloan recognizes that fruits contain sugar, she says the school food service tries to get away from the use of refined sugar. SUGARLESS COOKIES (48 cookies) 1 cup unbleached flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup butter, softened 1 cup walnuts, chopped fine 1 cup coconut 1/2 cup finely cut-up dried dates 1/2 cup raisins 1 egg, beaten 2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until particles are size of peas. Stir in nuts, coconut, dates, raisins, egg and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Chill for 1 hour. Shape in 1-inch balls. Place 1/2 inch apart on greased cookie sheet. With tines of fork dipped in flour, flatten balls. Bake in 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
BANANA OATMEAL COOKIES (30 cookies) 3 bananas 1/3 cup salad oil 2 cups quick-cooking oats, uncooked 1 1/2 cups chopped dates 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon salt
In a bowl, mash the bananas. Add salad oil, oats, dates, walnuts, vanilla and salt. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
FRESH APPLE CAKE (10 servings)
In honor of their principal's birthday, students baked and served this partly whole-grain cake. 1 cup vegetable oil 1 1/4 cups honey 3 cups apples, peeled and chopped 3 eggs, well beaten 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup chopped nuts 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda
Combine vegetable oil, honey, apples, eggs, vanilla and nuts. Sift together flours, salt and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into honey mixture. Place in greased and floured pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out without any crumbs