WASHINGTON — Providing children with nutritious, well-rounded meals is the duty of school lunch workers across the country.

National School Lunch Week, Oct. 14-18, was created to honor those who make healthy meals a reality for students.

“We designed it to celebrate the National School Lunch Program,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association.

“A lot of schools are doing school lunch celebrations to feature regional flavors of the meals for different regions of the country. There are fun activity sheets, contests and things that school cafeterias can do to help kids be involved and celebrate school lunch.”

Cafeterias can use marketing resources available online from the School Nutrition Association, but also try to make the celebration their own, Pratt-Heavner said.

“Schools are doing special promotions to make school lunch a little more fun this week,” she said.

The Soyfoods Association of North America is taking part in the celebration, as well, by highlighting the rising presence of soy foods in school lunches.

“School lunch week has been an activity conducted for many years to acknowledge the hard work of the school foodservice workers and accomplishments they have done helping feed children across the nation in schools,” said Nancy Chapman, executive director of Soyfoods Association.

According to Chapman, more and more schools are looking for healthy options to meet new health standards in schools.

“Many schools have turned to combinations of animal and plant protein,” she said. “Soy foods play an amazing role in trying to meet that.”

Soy protein has no cholesterol and is very low in saturated fat, making it an attractive option for school lunches.

Chapman said that soy food options for school lunches include soy-based hot dogs, chicken-less patties and nuggets and soy milk.

“Soy milk is being credited in place of dairy milk for those who have a reason to need a replacement milk, whether religious, allergy or lactose intolerance, or any number of reasons,” she said.

“Schools are really looking for ways to expands their menus to appeal to more diverse groups of students,” Pratt-Heavner explained. “A lot of schools offer vegetarian options that bring in those choices.

“We’re seeing edamame on school lunch menus more often now. More school are offering vegetarian options and using soybean foods to fill that role.”

Chapman said several studies have been conducted to introduce soy-based protein in place of or in compliment to animal protein. Acceptance rates of soy products have been very high.

“The critical thing for schools, just like at home, is having a chance for kids to taste them and decide what works and what does not,” Chapman said. “There will always be some that are highly acceptable to kids.”