Healthy eating goes beyond lunchroom

By Marci Larsen, Superintendent | Dec 05, 2012

I remember my school lunches very well. When I was in elementary school, I brought a sack lunch that was usually the same every day: half of an egg salad sandwich, potato chips, carrots and three cookies. I’d also buy a little carton of milk for 3 cents.

The lunch sack would sit in the classroom unrefrigerated all morning long and, by lunchtime, the egg salad was pretty smelly, but this also was a time when most of our parents smoked cigarettes and we rode in cars without seatbelts. I somehow survived.

We’ve come a long way since then, of course. We are certainly more aware of safety and health, and school lunches no longer resemble what most of us remember from our childhoods.

Mukilteo schools have been serving healthy meals for a long time. Yes, you’ll still find pizza on the menu, but the crust is now made of whole grains and the topping is low-fat cheese. Nothing has been deep fat fried for about eight years; the French fries are now baked.

The biggest change that you’d notice if you walked into a school cafeteria today is what we call the offering bar, which is loaded with fruits and vegetables.

Every week, our students consume 1,300 cases of food and beverages. That includes about 500 cases of milk, 30 cases of apples, 15 cases of oranges, and 200 pounds of carrots, in addition to all the other canned and fresh fruits and vegetables that are available.

The emphasis on fruits and vegetables is the focus of a new federal law that went into effect this year, called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The law mandates that schools provide more fruits and vegetables and reduce the amount of sodium, saturated fats and trans fats in meals. Every student is now required to take at least a half-cup serving of a fruit or vegetable (or both) at every meal.

Healthy eating goes beyond the lunchroom. For example, Odyssey Elementary offers a program through the WSU Extension Service where food experts go to the school to teach children about safe food handling, nutritious food choices and to let them know where food comes from.

One of the activities is called the salad bar challenge, which asks the students to try a food that they have not tasted before. After participating in the challenge, the students are usually more willing to try foods that are unfamiliar.

The program at Odyssey also includes parents. The food experts offer classes for parents about making healthy food more kid-friendly. It also includes a time when the parents and their children can cook together.

Getting students interested in food and cooking is one of the goals of an annual event that is organized by Sodexo, the company that manages our nutrition services program. Called the Future Chef competition, the event gives students the opportunity to prepare and present favorite healthy, kid-friendly recipes.

Providing students with access to healthy, balanced and nutritious school meals is a critical part of our work because it helps children not only perform better in school, but helps them to become healthier adults.

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