Eating Better at School


ATHENS - Clarke County is changing the lunchroom landscape. Schools are reducing the amount of fried foods they serve during lunch and removing snacks high in sugar and fat from vending machines.

These changes aimed at encouraging kids to consume nourishing foods instead of empty calories are happening in schools everywhere.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the average proportion of high schools and middle schools selling snacks high in sugar or salt dropped from 54 percent to 36 percent between 2006 and 2008. The percentage of schools that took soda out of campus vending machines increased from 37.8 percent to 62.9 percent.

Clarke County's school district was in the forefront of this shift. In 2006, the county implemented a wellness policy aimed at improving the overall health of students by reducing availability of unhealthy foods and increasing physical activity during the school day.

The policy was developed by a group of parents, teachers and even students who recognized children were not meeting nutritional goals. Only 1 in 5 high school students were eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily in 2006.

In addition, the district also reduced sugar, fat and salt content in school lunches.

"Manufacturers stepped up to the plate and they started providing healthier options for us to utilize," said Angela Garcia, nutrition coordinator for the Clarke County School district.

"We were able to provide more whole grain items, items with less sugar, and items without trans fat."

Clarke County schools have additional initiatives that aim to influence children's long-term eating habits.

Chase Street Elementary received a federal grant to provide students with a healthy fruit or vegetable snack each day. These range from familiar foods, such as asparagus, to more exotic items such as carambola, or starfruit, which is rich in vitamin C.

The program gives kids something healthy to eat while encouraging them to explore new food items.

"I think just having the experience of eating a fresh fruit or vegetable makes them interested in it and more open to the idea of eating fruits and vegetables," said Stacy Smith, whose daughter is a Chase Street student.

Smith also chairs the outdoor classroom committee for the school. The school obtained a grant from Lowe's Toolbox for Education and the Foundation for Excellence to construct raised garden beds behind the school.

Cultivating tomatoes, cabbages, beans and other vegetables and fruits gives children a chance to start with seeds, cultivate plants as they grow, and enjoy the results on their dinner plate.

"A lot of times people say their kid doesn't like this or that vegetable, but it's just that their kid hasn't been exposed to it," said Smith.

Both Garcia and Smith hope that these experiences will have long-lasting effects on the children, and their families.

"We hope that by introducing healthier options in the schools children are going to be positively influenced at home and help their parents chose healthier items," said Garcia.

To find out if your child's school has a garden program please visit the Environmental Education in Georgia web site.

Article by Jordan Sarver

This article and video were originally published on the WNEG-TV web site on Sunday, 8 October 2009.

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From L-R: Katie Smith, Jordan Sarver, James Hataway
From L-R: Katie Smith, Jordan Sarver, James Hataway

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