In honor of back to school season, this month, we sat down with Cindy Culver, MS, RDN, LD, the Director of School Nutrition for Marietta City Schools (GA) and a regional spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. We chatted with Cindy about the importance of a healthy lunch for students and how pasta fits in to school lunches. Read on for all of Cindy’s insight!
1. As students head back to school, what are some tips you can share for ensuring they eat a healthy, balanced lunch?
In Marietta City Schools (GA), we ensure that our menus are full of items that are recognizable by our students but also stretch their palates to try new things. We offer a lot of variety and choice for students to help ensure they eat the healthy meals offered. We have recently added items such as hummus, avocado, edamame and egg & cheese pita sandwiches to our menus. You can see some examples of our meal options here.
Because nearly 65% of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, we focus on ensuring that our students have access to healthy meals in schools. We (school nutrition professionals) attend each of our Back to School Sneak-a-Peaks at our schools to provide information on the meal programs and assist our families in filling out Free & Reduced benefit meal applications.
2. How do schools incorporate seasonal foods into lunch menus?
Each month we work with our produce vendor to purchase as much state (GA) grown or locally grown (a neighboring state) produce as possible. This year, we are hosting a Georgia Grown Test Kitchen at one of our elementary schools – in addition to what’s offered in the menus, the school will host a monthly taste test for all of our students and school staff members. Our first item was a fresh Peach Salsa. We will be featuring a Cucumber Lime Drink this upcoming month. In addition, we do menu updates in October and again in February to adjust to our seasons and to add variety to the menu.
3. How does pasta fit into school lunch menus to meet the nutritional needs of students?
Pasta is easy to make and a common food that is popular and highly acceptable by our students. We currently use whole grain pastas to meet our grain requirements.
4. How do you incorporate healthy versions of kid-friendly pasta recipes into meals?
Our menu development philosophy is to incorporate menu items that are recognizable but have a healthy twist. Recently, we added a Rotini Alfredo pasta to our menu which has been very successful with our students. All school meals must meet nutrition requirements, we follow calorie limits and have reduced sodium in meals while increasing fruits and vegetables and meeting requirements on grains. We will be adding an egg noodle dish in our October menus and continue with our fan favorites, including homemade Mac & Cheese as well as Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti. Here is one of our meals featuring pasta.
About Cindy Kanarek Culver, MS, RDN, LD
Cindy Kanarek Culver, MS, RDN, LD is the Director of School Nutrition for Marietta City Schools (GA) and serves as regional spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. She has 15 years of experience in school nutrition. She is the current Chair-Elect for the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group, a member of the Academy Positions Committee as well as the Georgia Affiliate Liaison for the School Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. The Marietta City Schools Nutrition Program has the opportunity to serve breakfast, lunch and after school snacks to nearly 9,000 students daily. In addition, they provide the Seamless Summer Option Program within the community and have been granted the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program at one of their elementary schools. Cindy received her BSFCS from the University of Georgia, completed her dietetic internship from the University of Northern Colorado and earned a Master of Health Sciences from the University of Alabama.
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