By Tyler Lowrance, Alexis Sheets, Kendra Dawn and Samantha Contreras

“If you think it’s time for lunch, clap your hands. If you think it’s time for lunch clap your hands. Wash your hands. Grab your lunch. We are hungry, ready to munch. If you think it’s time for lunch, clap your hands!”

“It can be tricky to try to find a lot of healthy foods that kids are happy to eat.” Umatilla School District Child Nutrition Director Rikkilynn Larsen

A school lunch has to be a lot of things for a student. It must strive for healthy amounts of sodium, sugars and trans-fats. The person in charge of school nutrition must also make sure the proper amount of fruits and vegetables are on the menu. How that is achieved in the Umatilla School District, in the United States and all over the world is an often talked about topic.

The Child Nutrition Director for the Umatilla School District is Rikkilynn Larsen, she is in charge of the balancing act for each of the three schools.

“There’s actually an ongoing plan as far as how to increase the fruits and vegetables and decrease the sodium levels, saturated fats, and also the calories,” Larsen explained. “It can be tricky to try to find a lot of healthy foods that kids are happy to eat, One of the things I’ve been asked  a lot of times about the menu having hamburgers and corn dogs that appear to be junk food type meals but when we provide those with the whole grain, limited sodium, limited saturated fats, and the low calories without doing any fried foods or any extra butter or all those extra additives.”

Nutrition is important for teenagers because school lunches are designed to put students on a healthy path, help decrease obesity and make students think better simply through improved nutrition.

The balancing act is taking a food that appears to be less healthy like the sausage patty and pairing it with whole grains and vegetables.

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“The challenge is that we have to pair it [the sausage patties] with other items for the week that are low in sodium and saturated fat. In order to stay within our guidelines, it is one of our highest foods [it saturated fat content] we serve,” Larsen said.

On the Mayo Clinic website mayoclinic.org it says trans fats are the worst for people. Trans fats raise total cholesterol levels and lipoproteins, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 Diabetes. Meeting the USDA National School Lunch Program requirements is simple with vegetarian foods, as well as other healthier options.

The Umatilla School District uses the Community Eligibility Provision, a provision from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows schools with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. This program approves many options for plant protein products including nut and seed butters, cooked beans and peas, and soy protein foods.

Umatilla High School students may not think they have the best school lunches in the world, but the lunches are getting better. Just take the sample from Sept. 28. The lunch staff began serving Banh Mi mini sandwiches. Bahn Mi is a traditional vietnamese sandwich with french bread filled with ham, cucumbers, radishes, onions, and carrots. The banh mi at school used flatbread, a non-whole grain bread, they have also added strawberry milk to the menu.

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“I think that is kind of a happy medium between providing the kids something they want to eat like a hamburger but yet providing a healthy meal.” Mrs. Larsen said.

The Healthier US School Challenge is a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. In February 2010, USDA and the First Lady called on stakeholders to double the number of challenge schools – a goal reached in June 2011 – and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that.

“This is my 23rd  year in education and I mean then obviously I went to school before the health changes and it was the corn dogs, macaroni and cheese pizza,” Umatilla High School Dean of Students Mrs. April Dirksen said. “All unhealthy but fun stuff that teens like and then it was still the same thing.”

Each country has a different style of what foods they serve and what they consider a healthy meal for children of all ages.

A different style of school lunch on one day in France would serve four courses for their students. Course one might be a grapefruit, as an appetizer. Course two might be a piece of chicken with salad. Course three a baguette with cheese. And the last course: dessert like rice pudding. The French feel this meal has all the essentials a child needs, and according to a BuzzFeedBlue Youtube video the French students find the meal filling. Compare school lunches in the U.S. to France they are from different worlds.

That same BuzzFeedBlue video showed examples from other countries too. In the  United Kingdom lunch could be Shepherd’s Pie, veggies, yogurt, a pear, and gravy. A Cuban student might get rice, and Ropa Vieja ( A mixture of beef, peppers, and onions). While in South Korea school lunch comes with purple rice, Bulgogi (Beef steak with a mixture of onions). And sides such as kimchi (pickled, spiced cabbage), and radishes.

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Back in the Umatilla High School Cafeteria the breakfast meal plan is on a weekly cycle, and the lunch menu is cycled through about every five to six weeks. You are still going to find students with critiques and ideas to improve their dining experience.

“It’s too repetitious, it needs to be changed,” opined senior Justin Maret who plays football for the Vikings. “Over the past four years I’ve been here, none of the meals have really changed. I feel like I have to get a snack in before practice, because I’d be hungry all throughout. It’s a problem not having enough.”

The school lunch may not be perfect but it has changed a lot in the past decade. People like Larsen in the Umatilla School District are trying to change it for the the better, especially in the health department.