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MFISD’s healthy eating plan: guidelines, cultural choices, communication

Marble Falls ISD school lunch choices

Students in the Marble Falls school district follow USDA guidelines when going down the lunch aisle. They must choose three of the following five food components: fruits, vegetables, meat/meat alternative, grain, or milk. One of the three components must be a fruit or vegetable. Staff photo by Nathan Bush

The Marble Falls Independent School District’s child nutrition department is planning several changes, including adding international foods, in its mission of promoting healthy eating habits among students.

Food Services Director Maria Manzo explained some of the new programs and menus she hopes to unveil on MFISD campuses in the 2022-23 academic year.

“We don’t want to make (students) take our food just to throw it away,” Manzo said. “We want the students to make a selection.”

Nearly 100,000 schools, including MFISD campuses, participate in the National School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. Participating schools follow guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture when deciding the minimum amount of food components per meal. 

These guidelines ensure healthy habits and continuity across the country. 

“When we’re building the menus, we have to meet all sorts of requirements,” Manzo said. “It can be a puzzle sometimes when trying to make sure everything fits.”

For the district to comply with USDA policy, schools must ensure students take a set number of food components, depending on the type of meal.

School lunch components include fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or meat alternatives, and milk. Students must take at least three of the five components, and one selection must be a fruit or vegetable. For breakfast, only three food components are necessary: fruits/vegetables, grains, and milk. Students must take all three to comply with USDA guidelines.

The designated amounts of different food components vary among age groups.

Manzo and her team believe the most important step in forging positive relationships with healthy foods is introducing those foods to students in an uplifting way. They work diligently to ensure all meals and interactions promote cleanliness and freshness. 

“We want to present food in the best possible light,” Manzo said.

Above all else, MFISD cafeteria staff are instructed to communicate with students.

“Nothing beats talking,” Manzo said. “We always want to introduce a new item.”

Next school year, Manzo plans to include cuisines from around the world to appeal to students from different cultures and broaden palates.

“We’re very cultural now in our world,” she said.

Sampling is also encouraged as well as repetition.

“They say the first time you try something, you may say you don’t like it,” Manzo said. “If you (try it) a second or third time, you can win someone over through learning to adapt to a new food or flavor. It all comes down to introducing.”

MFISD recently announced plans to continue free breakfast and lunch at all campuses within the district for the upcoming school year. 

Currently, the district is hosting summer feeding programs at the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes, Marble Falls Elementary School, Colt Elementary School in Marble Falls, Highland Lakes Elementary in Granite Shoals, and Marble Falls Middle School. For more information, visit the MFISD child nutrition department website.