It’s lunch time at Elyria High School, and the menu has all the staples of teenage dining — pizza, burgers and french fries.
But there is also a new offering that has become a popular choice among students: a salad bar.
“We did it because the students were basically asking for it,” said Scott Teaman, food services director with Sodexo Inc., the district’s contracted food provider. “We already had a very popular Subway-esque deli line, but students wanted salads, too, so it was an addition we were happy to provide.”
Elyria High is the first school under Sodexo to offer students the option of a salad however they like it.
However, it may not be the last. On Thursday, Sodexo, which is also the go-to provider to many museums, aquariums and hospitals looking to outsource food services, announced it would make a series of changes in support of first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.
Sodexo, which is headquartered in Gaithersburg, Md., said it will add more nutritious options to its vending and kindergarten through 12th grade lunchroom programs.
The company also wants to distribute millions more free breakfasts in the elementary and secondary schools where it serves meals.
Some of the changes could be in place as soon as next year.
“We want healthy choices to become second nature to all these kids we’re serving,” said Sodexo CEO George Chavel.
Chavel championed the changes at a health summit being held in Washington this week, where Michelle Obama is scheduled today to deliver the keynote address.
Locally, Sodexo serves Elyria Schools and the Lorain County Joint Vocational School.
Teaman, a professional chef with a culinary background that includes stints at Kenston School as well as at University Hospitals, said healthier eating habits are forming among Elyria students based on the food that is offered.
When he came onboard more than two years ago, a number of healthier options were added to school menus to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This included the increase of fruits and vegetables, decrease reliance on proteins and starches and replacement of enriched grains with whole-grain rich products.
If more changes are to come now that Sodexo is making a pledge to get even more nutritious foods into schools, Teaman welcomes it.
“We put more fruits and vegetables out at all of our schools and if anything the kids are now taking more,” he said. “In the beginning, there was a lot of waste with the food ending up in the trash. But that’s not the case now. The students know they will either be hungry or have to try the healthier options. They eat the healthier options.”
The White House welcomed Sodexo’s commitment.
Sodexo is the first major food service company outside of restaurant chains that is pledging to serve more nutritious food, said Sam Kass, a White House chef and executive director of “Let’s Move,” the first lady’s 4-year-old effort against childhood obesity.
“This is yet another indication that these healthier choices and these healthier decisions are becoming the new norm across the country,” Kass said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.