Melissa J. Grant 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Did your students have fun “playing in the dirt” during National School Lunch Week, held October 10-14, 2011? Our best guess is “yes,” knowing that many of the ripest picks for teaching nutrition education are those who work in K-12 school cafeterias. Planting seeds, meeting farm animals and harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables were all big parts of 2011’s “Let’s Grow Healthy”-themed NSLW celebrations. The occasion served as a terrific opportunity for students to learn why agriculture is so important in our lives and how to personally interact with and how to plant their own gardens of fresh crops. While some of the schools and districts mentioned in this article opted to conduct similar-themed events before and after NSLW, their experiences are included in this recap to further spotlight the many creative and fun ways that schools across the country can help children to make the connections between agriculture, meals and health. Playing [in] the Field It’s all fun and games when it comes to NSLW celebrations. Lunchroom bingo—a tried-and-true NSLW activity—likely was seen as a competitive diversion for students at Francisco Elementary School, Westfield, N.C.—that is, until later in the week, when they had the chance to take part in a tractor race! Now that sounds like homegrown fun! Further south, Yarbrough Elementary School, Auburn, Ala., students participated in a potato-decorating contest, while students at R.M. Moore Elementary School, Waleska, Ga., were asked to vote on their favorite crops. (Watermelon took the prize for top fruit, and potatoes were named favorite vegetable.) In the Seaford (Del.) School District, one elementary school manager challenged students to guess how many apples were piled in a wheelbarrow. The winner, who came within one apple of the total, received a book called Apples and Pumpkins. Are You Smarter Than Your Lunch Lady? That was the name of a game played at Sango Elementary School, in Clarksville, Tenn. Answers to a pre-determined question were eligible for a prize drawing of an “I Am Smarter Than My Lunch Lady” t-shirt. The kids “love this,” reports Cafeteria Manager Patty Noonan. For the last two years during NSLW, Noonan also has conducted a daily promotion she calls the Two Bite Club, which encourages her younger students to try different foods, such as pomegranates. When the students participate, they receive a certificate to color and hang on the lunchroom wall. Students at Patrick Springs (Va.) Elementary School went incognito during NSLW, hiding behind fake mustaches (and stickers and buttons) featuring the “Got Milk?” logo, which they received on the serving line from similarly costumed serving staff. “The students got a good laugh,” reports Diane Hylton, child nutrition manager. At South Elgin (Ill.) High School, students sported genuine milk mustaches and posed for photos one day during NSLW, while on other days, the school’s child nutrition team had fun handing out certificates that allowed randomly selected students (by computer) to go straight to the front of the line or receive a discount on a healthy snack. Got Seeds? NSLW artwork and displays always come in a wide variety of mediums, from coloring sheets to posters to murals. But a display at Estherwood (La.) Elementary School was a bit more unusual, featuring an “old hand-held ditch maker and old-time hand plow” to capture the “Let’s Grow Healthy” theme—as well as the attention and imaginations of student customers. This was just one detail of a major promotional effort, notes Lisa Richard, nutrition manager, which also included a poster contest; cafeteria tables decorated with rice, soybean and wheat bundles; a backdrop featuring crops planted in each area of Louisiana; serving staff dressed as farmers in straw hats and overalls; and a guessing contest featuring corn kernels in a jar. School nutrition staff throughout Alachua County (Fla.) Public Schools decorated for NSLW by putting gardening tools, watering cans, seeds and other agricultural products on display in the district’s cafeterias. For example, Abraham Lincoln Middle School students had the opportunity to guess what kind of plant Café Manager Jane Hurley had growing on her display table. (The winner received a basketball.) In addition to creative displays, Charles W. Duval Elementary School Child Nutrition Manager Kathy Schmidt teamed up with one of the school’s science teachers to demonstrate how a terrarium works. And at Littlewood Elementary School, students enjoyed homemade pumpkin vegetable soup, earning “I Tried It” stickers from Foodservice Manager Elizabeth Carden. For its NSLW menus, the school nutrition team at Deubrook Elementary School, Toronto, S.D., purchased crops from a local produce farm, which also provided the school with signage and a variety of pumpkin and squash to use for a taste test. Each student also received a small pumpkin to decorate as part of a common area display. Education Takes Root School nutrition professionals certainly love when students express enjoyment in learning about nutrition; it’s even more exciting when kids indicate a desire to one day work in a culinary field. The school nutrition team at St. Louis (Mo.) Public Schools’ Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning offered three young students (who had expressed an interest in the culinary arts) the chance to join two professional chefs in the school’s kitchen for a special demonstration preparing the day’s lunch menu: Meatloaf Cupcakes With Fresh Mashed Potatoes and Peas. At the district’s McKinley Classical Leadership Academy, Executive Chef José Gonzalez prepared fresh tacos for lunch. One student was “incredibly excited” to meet Chef Gonzalez and discuss her dream to go to culinary school. Teachers, staff and school nutrition professionals at Harlan Elementary School, Florence, Ala., jumped at the opportunity to further illustrate the importance of healthy eating by presenting a play that taught their students where food comes from and how it helps them grow. In “Old McKinnon Had a Farm” (named after one of the school’s teachers), each character in the play discussed a different food group and shared nutrition facts for each. Through the play’s narrative and interactive sing-a-longs, students learned about the many nutritional foods found on a farm. Meet the Farmer During NSLW and other farm-to-school promotional celebrations, many students were treated to presentations by and discussions with area farmers. At some schools, they had the chance to meet farm animals, as well. For example, at Orono Schumann Elementary School, in Long Lake, Minn., three local farmers set up animal pens in the school’s grassy playground area. The students were able to pet, feed and ask questions about the animals, which included kid goats, American Blackbelly rams and hens. A Georgia orchard owner stopped by West Fannin Elementary School, in Blue Ridge, to teach kindergarten students all about apples. Older children also had the opportunity to participate in a recipe contest and do a little peer-to-peer education on making healthy choices. Two local farmers joined USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon, SNA CEO Frank DiPasquale and students at Nottingham Elementary School, Arlington, Va., for a special NSLW lunch that featured roasted chicken, turkey wraps, roasted butternut squash with dried cranberries, carrots, Asian pears and more. That’s what we call fancy, but healthy, choices! In Michigan City, Ind., elementary school students celebrate “Thank-a-Farmer Thursday” with visits from local farmers every week! During NSLW, representatives from a local farm bureau taught Lake Hills Elementary School students all about dairy farms. But perhaps the children were already a step or two ahead in their understanding: When asked where milk comes from, the 1st-graders proudly shouted, “Cows!” Area farmers and local officials joined 5th-graders at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, in Loveville, Md., to celebrate the fourth annual Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week with special hands-on outdoor education activities, all designed to support the connection between farms, food, nutrition and health. At different stations, the children observed farm animals, learned about livestock, witnessed a demonstration on how to plant crops and listened to a presentation on the importance of recycling. The students also earned a surprise visit from Cornelia, a new corn-on-the-cob mascot. “Ohio: The Heart of Our Lunch Day” was celebrated throughout Huron City (Ohio) Schools during NSLW. School nutrition staff selected local vendors to supply entrées, while fresh fruits and vegetables came from local farms. Since NSLW 2011 coincided with National Fire Prevention Week, elementary school staff invited local firefighters to join the students in an “All-Ohio Lunch,” which was served inside red, plastic fireman’s hats that students could take home. Local foods were celebrated in other parts of the country, as well. And these include…locally grown hot dogs? While some foods aren’t “grown” locally, they can be procured from local manufacturers and processors. During NSLW, students at Bennington (Neb.) Jr./Sr. High School were offered several Nebraska foods on their lunch menu, including apples, honey, milk—and yes, even hot dogs processed locally. And in Vermont, a “localvore movement” encourages the consumption of locally grown and produced foods. That’s why the school nutrition team at Brattleboro (Vt.) Town Academy School scheduled a localvore “challenge” during NSLW, offering students a bounty of local fruits and vegetables, such as oven-roasted potatoes, tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli and apples. Even the grilled-cheese sandwiches featured local Grafton cheese. A NAC (and More) for Nutrition Coordinated student involvement can be a helpful tactic in developing a nutritious program that successfully increases participation. At Carrollton (Ga.) Junior High School, the school’s Nutrition Advisory Council (NAC) provided nutrition education to their peers by crafting table tents and posters. Meanwhile, the child nutrition team decorated the serving line with pictures that captured seed-to-harvest farming and offered locally grown produce on the menu. Many parents joined their children for lunch—and for some physical activity outside! NAC also was an NSLW presence at Cub Run Elementary School, in Penn Laird, Va., where club members helped serve lunch and took turns playing their musical instruments for the entire student body. At Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Flemington, N.J., a number of students get involved in the school lunch program through participation on a wellness committee coordinated by the school’s physical education teacher. During NSLW, these students met with New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher to share their thoughts on their school’s lunch program. Fisher, along with USDA’s Mid-Atlantic Special Nutrition Programs Director Jim Harmon and New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Food and Nutrition Director Rose Tricario, SNS, joined the students for lunch. Manatee County (Fla.) Schools celebrated NSLW with a variety of special events and activities. For example, Cafeteria Manager Billie Brinn worked with other school staff at Annie Lucy Williams Elementary School, Parrish, Fla., to incorporate the “Let’s Grow Healthy” theme into the regular WOW Wednesday all-school promotion of wellness. Brinn arranged for members from Palmetto (Fla.) High School’s Future Farmers of America club to speak with the elementary school students about agriculture; the older students brought a goat, chicken and piglet along with them for the presentation. At Sea Breeze Elementary, the cafeteria became an “apple orchard,” but the attending scarecrows didn’t deter the kids—and their families—from enjoying a special NSLW meal. School mascot Sammy the Sea Hawk flew in to provide entertainment for the special occasion. Can’t Grow Without You Many have said that it takes a village to raise a child, an especially apt sentiment when considering children’s health. Without the support of government, community and school nutrition leaders, meeting the challenges involved with ensuring that school-aged children receive a healthy meal during the school day might—no, would—be improbable. Last fall, Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools unveiled its new district-wide “Fresh to Schools” initiative at a special event held at Oak Ridge High School. In proud and supportive attendance were several special guests from the state agency, state legislature and school district. The initiative, which will increase fresh produce options on school menus, was championed by Youth 4 Change, a student organization at Oak Ridge. The students met with the district’s food and nutrition services staff and school officials to address their desire for even more fresh produce menu selections. SNA Past President and USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton, PhD, SNS, took the opportunity of NSLW to visit Taylor Elementary School, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There, she presented the school nutrition team with confirmation that Iowa school districts would have access to funds from a HealthierUS School Challenge grant and then joined the students for lunch. Thornton, a former district operator, expressed her pride in the vast improvements made to school menus and nutrition education in recent years. In asking student ambassadors at the school about their favorite fruits and vegetables, Thornton was pleased to hear such choices as broccoli and cauliflower: “That probably would not have happened five or ten years ago.” The cafeteria staff at Chicago’s James B. McPherson Elementary School had star power on the menu, with recipes specially created by TV host Rachael Ray; these included Windy City Chicken With Brown Rice, Glazed Carrots, Baked Beans, Michigan Apples and fat-free or lowfat milk (see “Cooking Up Something Special for You and Your Students,” for more details about Ray’s involvement in school nutrition). Prior to lunch, a professional chef demonstrated how to prepare these recipes to a group of 7th- and 8th-grade students. The 19 cafeterias in Rockdale County Public Schools, Conyers, Ga., were supported by nearly 50 guest servers during NSLW, including Nancy Rice, SNS, SNA past president and director, school nutrition division Georgia Department of Education. Many community leaders volunteered their time serving lunch, including a local judge at C.J. Hicks Elementary School and a member of the Georgia House of Representatives at Conyers Middle School. A number of schools and districts throughout the country welcomed parents to their cafeterias as part of SNA and KIWI magazine’s National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day promotion, which allowed parents to spend time with their children while learning more about the healthy, tasty meals served on the lunch menu. National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day will be held again on October 17, 2012, as part of this year’s NSLW celebrations (see “School Lunch: What’s Cooking?”). Schools interested in learning more about participating in this promotion can visit www.myhealthyschool.com. Let’s Get Cookin’! Now that you have come and “grown,” it’s time to get ready to cook up more NSLW fun using this year’s theme, “School Lunch: What’s Cooking?.” NSLW 2012 will be the premiere opportunity for your school’s current—and future!—nutrition professionals and chefs to showcase their talents and achievements (see page 22)! Perhaps your school nutrition staff will apply their scratch cooking expertise in using fresh fruits and vegetables and ingredients new to your menus during this special week. “School Lunch: What’s Cooking?” also is an ideal time to share with others in your school and community all the innovations your program has “cooking” for your students. Have schools in your district achieved—or are working toward—a HealthierUS School Challenge designation? Shine the spotlight on your school meals program by spreading the word about all of your healthy initiatives. And if you have just finished celebrating National School Breakfast Week 2012, “School Breakfast: Go for Gold,” don’t delay in sharing details and photos of your activities with School Nutrition. Send all photos and detailed descriptions to NSBW Wrap-Up, School Nutrition, 120 Waterfront St., Suite 300, National Harbor, MD 20745, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find your experiences featured in the next NSBW review!
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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