Jillian Kim noticed there was something different about her school lunch this year.
“The food tastes a little different,” the 11-year-old said, shortly after she'd finished her chicken Alfredo. “There's more chicken. It tastes better.”
The sixth-grader also appreciates having more options this year. There's a salad bar, a deli bar and two soups every day.
“I've always loved salads, and I think it's great to have something a little healthier,” Kim said.
Casady School, a 65-year-old college-preparatory private school, has always tried to serve healthy foods, but when the head chef of 20 years retired, the school began to explore new options.
Nathan Sheldon, associate head of Casady, said officials took input from students, faculty and parents before selecting Sage Dining Services as the meal provider for the school.
And while the menu may have changed, one tradition hasn't changed at Casady, and that's the family-style dining. Every week, students are randomly assigned to tables.
Two students, designated as servers for the week, retrieve the food from the kitchen and serve their entire table, which includes one faculty
“It avoids formation of cliques,” Sheldon said. “You don't have to worry about where you're going to sit.”
It also promotes a general sense of togetherness on the 900-student campus that spans from prekindergarten to 12th grade, he said.
“I had a pepperoni sandwich,” seventh-grader Angus Ogilvie said with a grin.
Classmate Alden O'Connor stuck with the chicken Alfredo and was pleased. Both agreed though that the best dessert was the homemade cinnamon rolls.
Which brings us to the next plan of Casady's new dining services: helping students make healthier choices.
“Almost everything here is made by scratch,” said Christopher Bright, head of Casady School. “That's something that we've always been committed to. It's higher quality, and it tastes better. We don't like processed food.”
But even among the healthier options, there are still some things to avoid.
Sage Dining Services has provided Casady with a color-coded nutritional system. Red dots on a menu item indicate it is an option that is high in fats or offers little nutritional value. It should be eaten sparingly, Bright said. Yellow dots are foods that are healthier but should still be consumed in moderation, and the green dots indicate food that is nutritional and a good staple food item.
Bright said they specifically wanted to stay away from publishing calorie counts for food, given the prevalence of eating disorders among America's teens. Counting calories is directly associated with weight loss, while the dot system is based on the nutritional value of food, something directly associated with health and
“I know that these guys after lunch have a level of energy that's far better than mine certainly was when I was in school after I ate my french fries and greasy hamburger,” Bright said. “That shows itself on the field and that shows itself in classes.”
Sage Dining Services also is going to begin educating students about the dot system and nutrition in the weeks to come.
According to the school's website, the school meal program costs $960 per year for middle and high school students at Casady, in addition to regular tuition, which ranges from about $12,000 to $16,000, depending on grade level.