“There are so many choices!”

“Wow – school lunch didn’t look like this when I was in school!”

Statements like these are made by parents and caregivers across the country when they step back into the school cafeteria for the first time. Since federal nutrition guidelines have taken effect, changes to menus have brought more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and reduced sodium and calories in meals.

In many schools, traditional food-centric celebrations like Thanksgiving create the opportunity for parents and families to see the changes first-hand and enjoy school lunch together.  In Livingston ISD (TX), students got in on the action to host parents and visitors for a holiday meal. Livingston High School Culinary Arts Students helped serve lunch as child nutrition department staff donned festive turkey hats and decorated the cafeteria lines for guests. In addition to traditional oven roasted turkey and fixing15195887_575657815972502_3042307057346908901_os, homemade pumpkin bars were a highlight of the meal, which welcomed parents at every school in the district through the week.

With the help of volunteers, more than 70,000 Thanksgiving meals were served to students and guests at Greenville County Schools (SC) last week. So many guests attend the celebration at the district’s Bethel Elementary School that they have to spread it out over two days!   And, new this year through the Seed to Table program at Slater-Marietta Elementary, sweet potatoes that students planted, tended and harvested were sampled in the cafeteria. Students were treated to mashed sweet potatoes topped with pineapple and toasted coconut.

15032757_1498633550152403_5862261405842582949_nAt Alabaster City Schools (AL), parents and community members joined in Thanksgiving meal celebrations that featured presentations of thankfulness – cards, signs and even haikus were created by the students.

Schools continue to welcome parents to experience school meals and see firsthand the healthy choices available to students. In Randolph County Schools (NC), feedback from a parent survey revealed misinformation and lack of awareness about school meals. Starting next week, the district will begin offering “Food Day for Parents” sessions that include kitchen and cafeteria tours with explanation of the federal nutrition guidelines and Q&A time for feedback.

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