Soggy vegetables and starchy entrees in school cafeterias are in the past.
Today's school lunches feature whole-grain breads and pastas, fresh raw and steamed vegetables, and a variety of fruits.
The menu changes are in response to the government releasing new nutrition standards for school meals that call for cutting sodium and calories while adding fruits and vegetables.
And Hillsborough County Public Schools Student Nutrition Services Chef Ben Guggenmos is doing his part to help students make healthy food choices. As part of National School Lunch Week, Oct. 15-19, Guggenmos will visit three elementary schools and demonstrate a healthy recipe for a cream cheese pear roll-up.
He also will conduct two demonstrations at each school with approximately 30 students in grades three through five, who will make their own cream cheese pear roll-up.
The same recipe also will be served during lunch so all students can sample the recipe and taste for themselves how appetizing healthy food can be.
Demonstrations will take place from 8:45 to 10 a.m. Oct. 16 at Deer Park Elementary School, 11605 Citrus Park Dr., Tampa; Oct. 17 at MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School, 1721 N. MacDill Ave., Tampa; and Oct. 18 at Mintz Elementary School, 1510 Heather Lakes Blvd., Brandon.
On Sept. 27, parents of students at Barrington Middle School and Stowers Elementary School were invited to meet Guggenmos and sample some of his new lunchtime recipes.
He plans to offer other programs to parents around the county.
Since joining Hillsborough County Schools in 2010, Guggenmos has made it his mission to revamp the reputation of the school lunch program, notorious for its fats and starches.
The former manager of the NFL's New England Patriots' luxury dining clubs and a sous chef at the Charleston Harbor Hilton, Guggenmos is now charged with delivering healthy meals to the 192,000 students in the country's eighth-largest school district.
This year, he's introducing healthier selections such as a spicy black bean vegetarian burrito, roasted broccoli and mac and cheese made with pureed butternut squash.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for all food served in schools to improve the health of the nation's children.
The new standards for school lunch include:
• Establishing maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals.
• Requiring schools to serve a fruit and vegetable every day at lunch and in larger portions than offered before. Portion sizes vary by age group.
• Requiring schools to offer a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red-orange vegetables, starchy vegetables and legumes each week.
• Requiring that after the two years of implementation, all grains offered to students must be rich in whole grains such as brown rice. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas must list whole grain as the first ingredient.
• Requiring milk to be either low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free.
• Requiring that foods contain no trans fats.
What do you think of the healthier requirements for school lunches? Tell us in the comments.