What Goes Into School Lunches: Child Nutrition and Marilyn Moody #ANC13

I attended #anc13, the School Nutrition Association as a guest of CJ Public Relations.

On Monday, I attended the School Nutrition Association’s conference in Kansas City. I left the comfort of the Sheraton at Crown Plaza and entered the Kansas City Convention Center.  While here, I had the honor of meeting Marilyn Moody. Within moments, she had warmed me over with her Southern hospitality, honesty, and passion for what she does.

marilyn moody

To be clear, Marilyn Moody, is the Senior Director of Child Nutrition for Wake County Public Schools, the largest school district in North Carolina and the 16th largest school district in the United States. We are talking 169 schools and 149,508 students.

Here’s a quick reference guide to her school district.

wake county schools

F&R is the abbreviated form of Free and Reduced. A program that has roots back from when the Federal Government became involved in school lunches through the 1936 Commodity Donation Program aimed to eliminate price-suppressing crop surpluses by distributing excess commodities to schools for meals for students who could not otherwise afford them.

Then in 1976, under the direction of President Harry S. Truman, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act to set up a permanent federally funded school lunch program and improve child nutrition.

Since 1946, the law has grown to include free and reduced priced breakfast, milk, after-school snacks and summer meals for qualifying students.

I liked Marilyn Moody right off, however, I was here to talk about school lunches and I was an angry badger thanks to the day my kiddos came home announcing they had Smuckers Uncrustables for lunch. I shared my concern with Moody, how, as a mom, I felt this was unacceptable. Peanut Butter and Jelly I could make at home.

Ms. Moody’s eyes brightened, she let out a grin and she said, “I have to feed children. Some children only eat a couple of things. They won’t try anything beyond these few items. I also have children that will eat anything.”

This I understood, as my nephew is a kiddo who doesn’t exercise his taste buds beyond chicken nuggets.

Moody continued, “That Uncrustable has 2 oz. of protein, just enough jam or jelly to add a little sweetness and its whole grain. It’s giving that child the nutrition he needs to go into the classroom and learn.”

So, when I got home I did a comparison:

smuckers crustable

The difference in protein caught my eye immediately. The school version of a Smuckers Uncrustable offers 10 grams of Protein vs. the Consumer Smuckers Uncrustable‘s 6 grams of protein. Fiber on the school version is 3 grams while the home version is 2 grams. Parent’s we know that protein and fiber fill out children’s bellies. It sustains them longer.

There is a difference in calories: School version offers 320 calories while the home version 210 calories.

Being on the trade show floor with Marilyn Moody was an incredible experience. She has buying power being the 16th largest school district in the nation. She introduced me to Penny, a broker, who explained how buying power mattered. With a minimum order of 2,000 units, many schools were limited in their selection of food. They have to make informed choices because they certainly cannot have 2,000 units of bread delivered at the beginning of school, it would go bad before they can use it all.

So Moody and other directors have to make informed decisions. They have to know their demographics. Moody cited that children in a part of her school district were brought up on Hummus. They enjoy it as a spread, a dip and more. The children on the other side of the school district, don’t know what Hummus is. It would be wasted there because no one would eat it.

So the challenges are the demographic cultural foods, the budget and things like offering fruits and vegetables as two separate meal components (Federal Regulations require Elementary and Middle School receive 1/2 cup of fruit while High School students require 3/4 cups fruit.)

Here is an example of how these quotas are met.

wake county schools USDA Foods

One of the first booths Marilyn Moody took me to was Kellogg’s where I learned the cost companies put into meeting regulations. One Child Nutrition label product costs millions. In addition to meeting the regulations, there comes the challenge of product packaging. For Kellogg’s one of the challenges was containers. No longer does the government go by the serving size listed on a consumer box, their portions are now done by weight. So imagine the difference in packaging required for Corn Pops vs. Cornflakes.

kellogg's booth at #anc13

As I looked across the trade show floor, here were brands we consume every day in our home: Conagra, Tony’s Pizza, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Horizon, Tyson and more. They all have a K-12 product line that conforms to the Federal Regulations that dictate our children’s school nutrition.

cheryl from chobani greek yogurt #anc13

Then I saw a booth for Chobani Greek Yogurt and asked Marilyn Moody if they had a K-12 product line and she took me to meet Cheryl with Chobani. Cheryl explained the Chobani was the same as I would buy as a consumer. It’s been tested in Quaboag District in Warren, MA where “The kids loved the delicious flavors and creamy consistency.”

Chobani did a pilot program here when the school district discovered that students weren’t meeting their daily calcium, protein, and vitamin requirements. The search was on for a tasty, nutritious option to serve during meal periods. Because Chobani is made from all natural ingredients and real fruit, the school officials tested authentic strained Chobani Greek Yogurt in Strawberry and Vanilla blended flavors against the regular, unstrained yogurt they were serving. They received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Cheryl explained that the only difference between the school version and the consumer version is the size. The school version is a 4-ounce cup served at breakfast and a 6-ounce cup used as an à la carte option at lunch while the 32-ounce bulk container is used to make yogurt parfaits with granola and fresh fruit to equal three meal components. The bulk Plain yogurt is used to make salad dressings and dipping sauces to help expand the menu to provide nutritious options like the California Dreaming Slaw recipe, I tried.

After walking the trade show and listening to the various things to consider, how the federal regulations must be adhered to and learning that for Marilyn Moody, there is a budget of $1.15 per child, per meal to make a plate look like this (the cost of milk has been removed from the amount).

wake county schools lunch tray

We visited Schwan’s where I asked Marilyn Moody to allow me to watch her in action. I wanted to see what exactly she does.

marilyn moody talking with Schwann's

It was incredible. It was like an auction where they were bidding one grain, two fruits and so much more. I listened in awe as she took a piece of pizza and broke it down into grains, the tomato pastes a vegetable and Vitamin A and the cheese as dairy and just kept going. My mouth dropped. This woman knew her stuff and was going to make sure the children in her school district were well-fed and their nutrition maximized.

In my two hours with Marilyn Moody, I have a new respect for school lunches. I learned there is a great love for our children, not only from directors like Marilyn Moody but from every company that is preparing and creating our children’s food. Their only responsibility is our children’s nutrition and they take it seriously.

I was sad to have to leave Marilyn Moody. She is an amazing woman whom I compared to Vogue Magazine. She’s setting trends, she’s walking the runway and making school lunch a modern wonder.

As I joined another School Nutrition rock star, I happened to see Marilyn Moody on the floor doing what she loves–spreading the word about school lunch. Here she is with KCTV news:

marilyn moody chatting with KCTV

They were explaining to viewers that the hope is to make pizza, Chinese food, juices and other foods have less sodium, calories, sugars and fats that our children will eat.

Marilyn Moody was ready, “We don’t tell the children that it’s healthy; that way the calories are reduced, the sodium is reduced and the children don’t know it.”