Metro Nashville school chefs cooked for a national audience on Monday, attempting to demonstrate how they are moving closer to meeting federal guidelines on school lunches. The chefs more specifically are adding more fruits and vegetables and less fat and sugar. Metro Nashville’s school Nutrition Association’s annual conference brought 8,000 members and vendors to Nashville for what organizers call the nation’s biggest taste test of school food. David Owens, owner of Chef David Catering Services, lost 140 pounds and consults with Metro Schools on health conscious recipes. Owens shares, “I wanted to be able to share with kids my story, on not just losing weight, but eating healthy. And then encouraging them at the same time.” Chef Owens created vegetarian chili, baked chick in fruit sauce, and vegetable rice for his audience of 220 people who lined up cafeteria style to sample the meals.
According to the Tennessean, many people in the audience nodded their heads in approval and agreed that the children would enjoy the fruit sauce served on the chicken. The vegetarian chili was also a big hit, with many in the audience scooping up every bite of chili, convinced it would be a school favorite. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing new lunch guidelines that will be announced in January. Metro Schools implemented some of the guidelines a few months early, such as increasing whole grains, decreasing sodium and offering 1 percent or fat-free milk. One of the big and few challenges amidst this healthy breakthrough are rising food costs. Metro Schools are undoubtably challenge by the cost of fresh foods while the budget for school lunches has not increased, leaving them with tough decisions to make. Deborah Walker, nutrition education and training coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools said, “It will cost as much as 30 cents at breakfast time and 55 to 60 cents in addition at lunch time. That is per meal, so that is quite a bit on top of what we are already doing. We are doing the best we can.” Metro spends $2.35 on every meal, which includes food costs, employee labor and overhead fee. Seventy-one percent of students in the Metro district qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Although this will pose a challenge, the individuals making this change are confident that everything will work out and their efforts will lead to healthier, more conscious students.