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School Lunch Success in Austin, TX

Back to school time brings a flurry of activity, from shopping for supplies to getting back into the swing of family meal planning. Since there’s lots of buzz surrounding school lunches these days, we thought we’d share some exciting things that are being done by Chef Steven Burke and the Austin Independent School District (A.I.S.D.) in Austin, Texas. Chef Steven Burke is the School Food Service Chef for A.I.S.D. He develops new recipes based on student preferences and trends, reviews feedback from student focus groups, presents to parents and works with local chefs for “Local Chefs – Local Fresh” that includes school visits. He also works closely with the Sustainable Food Center and the Farm to School program in Austin. A.I.S.D. participates in the Eat Smart portion of the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program, which was developed by University of Texas researchers who are on staff at the Dell Center for The Advancement of Healthy Living. The cornerstone of the CATCH program is teaching students to select foods using a stoplight metaphor. Foods are categorized as either GO, SLOW or WHOA.

GO foods are those lowest in fat with no added sugar and are less processed than other foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fat-free and low-fat dairy products with no added sugar are all examples of GO foods.

SLOW foods are higher in fat and sugar, and they are more processed. Reduced-fat plain milk and dairy products, reduced-fat processed meats, refined grains and foods that are prepared with added fat or sugar are all examples of SLOW foods.

WHOA foods are highest in fat and sugar, and they are the most processed. Whole milk, meats that are high in fat, fried foods and foods prepared with large amounts of added fat and sugar are all examples of WHOA foods.

Students are taught that a healthy diet consists mostly of GO foods, fewer SLOW foods, and rarely WHOA foods. At A.I.S.D., different menus are developed for each school level to serve foods that students are familiar with in the healthiest versions possible. Then newer items are introduced annually to provide students an opportunity to broaden their food experience.  For more detailed menu information, peruse the Austin Independent School District lunch menus. Want to see more pictures? Check out Chef Burke’s photos on flickr. This year, the first ever National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day will take place on October 12th during National School Lunch Week. Will you participate?

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Brooks Ballard says …

So glad to see Chef Burke getting well-deserved attention for all of his work to make healthy eating a priority for Austin schools! Keep up the good work! -Brooks Ballard and the team at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living

Piper Jones says …

I'm so thankful to see this gaining steam. As a parent of children in the Austin schools I laud your efforts against the challenge of fast food and what has come to be 'school cafeteria food'. The upswing is NOT easy but awareness and movement are key. I also appreciative that you are helping to build school garden programs locally. My girls and I donated at the checkout in your Lamar store - made us all feel good and it was the perfect opportunity to bring the education to our 'home' level. All moves in the right direction - well done! Piper Jones

QBH says …

I'm so happy to see the information about the healthy school lunches in AISD get out. I'm a firm supporter of school lunches. I frequently eat with my child at his school (we both eat the cafeteria food) and what we eat looks so much more nutritious than what I see many of the children whose parents pack their lunch eat. I wish more parents would realize that AISD provides healthy, delicious meals. My child's favorite dish is the turkey over brown rice. He loves it so much that we mark it on the calendar and I eat it with him whenever I can. In fact, I'll be gobbling it up today! Thanks for making it easier for parents to feel confident about the food our little ones eat.

Linda McDermott says …

Is there a cookbook available with Chef Steven's school recipes?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LINDA - Unfortunately I was unable to find a cookbook anywhere online.

Tricia V. says …

I live in Houston, TX and I would like to see this type of school lunch program implemented in Houston area schools. Houston has a bigger diabetes/obesity problem than Austin. In both children and adults. I am glad that this is being done throughout the Austin school system. It is a great start, but something like this is really needed in areas that are heavily lacking nutrition in our children's school lunches. This actually needs to be a national program. Especially in our inner cities.