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Make Healthier School Meals


Cabell County cooks teach cooks from other counties how to make vegetable-packed red sauce during a training sponsored by the state Office of Child Nutrition. (Photos: Kate Long)


Once the kids try garlicky oven-cooked potatoes, they eat them as readily as French fries, cooks say.

West Virginia is a national leader in the campaign for healthier school food.  Soda and junk food machines are out of elementary schools. By the end of 2014, the state Office of Child Nutrition had trained cooks from every county to stop reheating processed food and cook from scratch.

Cooks trained cooks.  “Cooks who were used to reheating processed food often worried that they couldn’t get meals cooked in time if they use fresh ingredients,”  Cabell County cook, Alice Gue, one of the trainers. “We show them ways they can do it. It’s a lot better for the kids.”

Click here for the vegetable-packed red sauce recipe and other “from scratch”  recipes.

And click here for ways to get money for the necessary equipment for your school.


The Office of Child Nutrition is buying new equipment for cooks that lets them process big volumes of fresh ingredients quickly.

It’s something West Virginia can be proud of, said Office of Child Nutrition director Rick Goff.  “When I go to national meetings, people ask my advice about how they can do what we’ve done.”

“It’s a lot better for the kids, and in the long run, it saves money,” said state nutrition coordinator Kristi Blower. “The more students who eat school meals, the lower the cost per meal. While your cooks are working out the kinks, it may cost more at first, but over time, it definitely tends to cost less.”


Want to make sure your schools are minimizing processed food?



Some schools serve healthier food than others, “but we’re making headway,” says Rick Goff, state Office of Child Nutrition director.

  • Get familiar with “Smarter Lunchroom” activities natiowide. Educate yourself and your group. Start with the Web site.
  • Local parents are important. Most cooks have been trained to cook from scratch, but they’re not required to do it.  If parents ask for it, it’s much more likely to happen.
  • Read your school menus. Ask questions. Is the chicken pre-cooked and processed or cooked from scratch? If you have questions about what you see, talk with the food service director. The situation may be better than it seems. The from-scratch pizza recipe, for instance, is made from vegetable sauce and whole-grain crust.  Here’s a list of county nutrition directors: .
  • Get on the school wellness councils. Wellness councils have no legal authority to require schools to do anything, but they are official bodies that, by law, must meet. They give you a way to work constructively with your school.The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for school nutrition.  They have a lot of resources for parents that explain the laws and list resources.  Try this overview and this one for parents
  • Every school system is required to have a Local School Wellness Policy. Here are details of the requirements.
  • Call the WV Office of Child Nutrition if you can’t resolve a problem locally. Their staff can help you figure out how to solve a problem or can, in some cases, intervene.  (304) 304-558-2708.
  • Find a roadmap to an ideal meals program, healthy school recipes, and information about individual schools, in the OCN’s publication, The Playbook: Creating a Model Food Service Program in West Virginia.


    Cooks at Lincoln County’s Midway Elementary taking cooked-from-scratch lasagna from the oven. It will be paired with Ceasar salad with homemade ranch dressing, a vegetable and a cooked-from-scratch roll.

  • Get ideas from other places. Canfit is a national organization dedicated to helping communities improve the health of their schools.

    Midway students enjoying their lasagna lunch. They had also visited the salad bar.

    Midway students enjoying their lasagna lunch. Most had also visited the salad bar. Photo: Kate Long

  • Look at West Virginia’s school nutrition standards. They have drawn national praise. Read about them here:
  • Check to see if your schools qualify and are participating in the healthy afternoon snack program. 


Find out about the OCN’s efforts to improve school food:



Mingo County kindergartners benefit by that training as they eat a lunch of cooked-from-scratch beef stew, cornbread, fruit and blueberry cobbler.


Want to make healthier home-packed lunches?


Gilmer County High School students generally wipe out the daily salad bar.



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