Melissa J. Grant 2013-04-03 14:48:11
Go ahead and kiss the cooks, because they concocted a full course of tasty celebrations last fall for National School Lunch Week 2012. Was the clang of pots and pans a special music to the ears in your school cafeteria during National School Lunch Week (NSLW), held October 15-19, 2012? The theme, “School Lunch—What’s Cooking?,” encouraged school nutrition professionals across the country to celebrate and showcase all of the positive changes that they have been making in their school lunch programs. It was a wonderful opportunity to inform parents and the community about new offerings and initiatives, new nutrition requirements and the ongoing importance of healthy school lunches to a child’s health and achievement. In addition, many students were treated to activities that spotlighted their own culinary skills. Special guests, games and prizes, taste tests and more all combined to make school kitchens the hottest venue during NSLW—and beyond! Take a look at how a mere handful of schools and districts made the most of this annual chance to dispel outdated stereotypes and generate fresh enthusiasm. Be Our Guest SNA national and state leaders, city officials, students and community agency representatives were among a host of eager guest servers in numerous cafeterias throughout NSLW. Many reported that the occasion was a great opportunity to learn more about school nutrition—and be exposed to the complex process of successfully offering healthy meals to every student each day. For example, the child nutrition team at Daves Creek Elementary School, Cumming, Ga., welcomed 120 parents for lunch, graced with the aid of three guest servers from the Georgia Department of Education. Of course, it’s all in a day’s work for April Cox, food and nutrition manager, who relies on her very own blog, www.thislunchlady.blogspot.com, to regularly promote her child nutrition experiences—and share reports about her NSLW activities. The Rockdale County (Ga.) Public Schools school nutrition staff also had the company of some honored guest servers during NSLW. These included Nancy Rice, SNS, SNA past president, and Dr. Cleta Long, SNS, Georgia School Nutrition Association president. “[The school nutrition team members] do an amazing job ensuring that students are provided a healthy meal so that they are ready to learn,” reported Cindy Ball, executive director of information and community relations at Rockdale County Public Schools, who also volunteers annually as a guest server. “Each year, I look forward to participating. It has given me a better understanding of what it takes to feed so many children and adults at one time and allows me to show my appreciation for their hard work.” As we all know, NSLW is one of the best occasions for inviting members of the community to be guests at the table, not just the serving line! Parents and others can see and taste menu items for themselves, rather than relying on presumptions or inaccurate reports. To make the most of such an important public awareness opportunity, the school nutrition team from Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools hosts Behind the Lunch Counter, a recurring event that allows parents to visit the cafeteria and get a kitchen tour, along with a wealth of information all about the school meal program. While Behind the Lunch Counter is a year-long initiative, NSLW provided an extra-special occasion to share the school lunch story with even more community leaders and parent guests. The school nutrition staff at Barrington Middle School and Stowers Elementary School, Lithia, Fla., part of the Hillsborough district, were two sites that offered kitchen tours for parents during NSLW. “I’m happy to hear they’re working healthy food into the menu that kids will like,” commented the parent of two students. Visitors sampled several items on the menu, including sweet-and-sour chicken and yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and homemade granola. The district’s chef also demonstrated how to reformulate some favorites to make them more nutritious, such as 60% whole-grain brownies. In Jackson, Mich. , McCulloch Academy of Science and Technology child nutrition program staff put their own spin on NSLW, inviting students and special guests to “Chomp With Champions.” The children expressed how much they enjoyed having guests in their school, and the visitors, which included Jackson’s fire and police chiefs, among others, reciprocated such sentiments. “I like it; it is fun to eat lunch with people who help protect us,” said one 3rd-grader. “A lot of kids are eating their fruits and vegetables; this is a great way to connect with the kids. This is one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy,” shared Police Chief Matt Heins. Kevin Ponce, SNS, child nutrition director for Mid-Del (Okla.) Public Schools, was among several of the guest speakers at his district’s East Side Elementary School. After an assembly where students listened and learned about healthy eating and locally grown foods, Ponce and other community leaders joined the students for lunch. The students also received a surprise visit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Power Panther mascot. Field trip! Kindergarten students at Greenwood Elementary School, Bessemer, Ala., received a kitchen tour, while all students saw the début of new menu items, such as Ham and Cheese Toasties served with Harvest Pasta Salad and Chili Chix With White Beans and Roasted Sweet Potatoes. The school celebrated Family Lunch Day on the last day of NSLW. Families also filled up the cafeteria at Fellsmere (Fla.) Elementary School during Take Your Parent to Lunch Day. And not only were parents invited to eat lunch with their little chefs at Yarbrough Elementary School, Auburn, Ala., but the 1st-grade class also decorated chef’s hats and wore them at the luncheon, which served more than 200 parents and 355 students. FARM-iliar With the Menu The fall harvests found at many a U.S. farm in October made for great hands-on lesson opportunities during NSLW. For example, one local farmer visited Cameron Park Elementary School, Hillsborough, N.C., to tell kids about the health benefits of various fresh vegetables and fruits and how these products grow. As part of the event, the school nutrition staff dressed as farmers and encouraged students to touch and smell the different fruits and vegetables on display from the farm. In the Midwest, Sailorway Middle School, Vermilion, Ohio, students participated in “All Ohio Day” during NSLW, where Ohio-grown healthy products and food items were showcased. To commemorate NSLW at Bradford (Tenn.) Special School District, the school nutrition team tweaked the theme for a “YEE HAW! What’s Cooking?” celebration that included costumes and decorations in a Western style. Heading deeper south, kids found the Western Wednesday celebration at Carrollton (Ga.) High School to be plain ol’ good ‘n’ healthy fun. They were encouraged to “round up” their friends to enjoy a variety of fresh and healthy food items at lunch. The school’s cafeteria team also hosted Represent Your Favorite Holiday Monday, Toga Tuesday, Throwback Thursday and Spirit Friday activities during NSLW. Sheri Talbot, lunch manager at both Cherry Creek Elementary School and Brookside Elementary School, in Spanish Fork, Utah, knows the importance of offering lunch options that are “farm-iliar” to students. Responding to the implementation of new nutrition standards for school meals, Talbot explained, “We do have some new rules, but I think it’s good to have kids eat more fruits and vegetables and not high-calorie foods.” Students get excited when they see fresh strawberries and melons on the serving line, she reports. Keeping things warm and homey was the “What’s Cooking?” goal of the school nutrition team at Grantham (N.H.) Village School. They offered homemade chili, fresh fruits and a salad bar to students and parents during NSLW. Across the country, Cindy Rose, child nutrition manager at L.A. Nelson Elementary School, Denton, Texas, designed and crafted unique decorations: fruit and vegetable characters made of fleece. The characters represented produce included on the lunch menu. Ready to CompEAT The “What’s Cooking?” NSLW 2012 theme was ideal for a variety of fun activities, competitions and games. School nutrition staff at Woodland Elementary School, Lee’s Summit, Mo., coordinated a healthy recipe contest for students. The top three winners had their photos taken and received chef’s hats. Their winning recipes—Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta, Chimichangas and Chicken Tortilla Soup—were prepared as samples during NSLW. In addition, the cafeteria team decorated the school kitchen with measuring spoons, pot holders, oven mitts and wooden spoons. “You Are What You Eat” was the name of a contest at Murphy Elementary School, Metamora, Mich., which asked students to create artistic self-portraits made of fruits and vegetables. The students at Murphy also participated in an essay and poster contest that focused on the importance of fresh, healthy produce. Students throughout Marion City (Ohio) Schools got into the competitive spirit during NSLW. They played a “Got Milk” trivia game at Harrison Elementary School, and smiling faces with milk mustaches showed they were ready for their close-ups. At Hayes Elementary School, teachers, principals and the child nutrition staff shared with the students memories of their own youthful school lunch favorites. One teacher said that she really enjoyed milk with her lunch, noting that she drank it before single-serve cartons were available! Marion City’s mayor made an official National School Lunch Week declaration, reading the proclamation at Grant Middle School. The child nutrition team at Kendrick High School, Columbus, Ga., asked their customers, “If you could cook up any meal in the world at school, what would it be?” In submitting their answers, students were eligible for a prize drawing. The school nutrition staff at Altavista (Va.) Combined School coordinated a coloring contest, a lucky tray day and a drawing for a fruit basket. Throughout Nash-Rocky Mount (N.C.) Public Schools, school nutrition team members made chef’s hats to wear and decorated their cafeterias. They engaged students by sponsoring contests, drawings, lucky trays, kitchen tours and offering activity sheets. A bit further south, Abney Elementary School, Slidell, La., students celebrated the special week with a door-decorating contest. Have a Taste NSLW 2012 coincided with the required implementation of new nutrition standards for school meals, which meant that many school nutrition teams, including the staff from Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools, used the occasion to debut many new menu items, often in conjunction with special activities and guests. For example, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, along with a chef from a nearby farm, prepared lunch recipes for students to taste at Forsyth Woods Elementary. The new dishes included Florida-grown eggplant and peppers, roasted eggplant meatballs and colored pepper bruschetta. Stafford Township (N.J.) School District hosted a taste-testing event for students, parents and faculty that featured unique fruits and vegetables such as jicama, kale, figs and bok choy. Also in the state, a group of 2nd-grade students at Charles H. Bullock Elementary School, Montclair, N.J., were joined by New Jersey Department of Agriculture officials for a tastetesting of several new school lunch menu items. Among the items sampled were vegetarian chili, garbanzo bean salad and fresh berries. Many new items were offered throughout the week at Newton (Iowa) High School, including fresh mango fruit and General Tso’s chicken. Bessie Buker Elementary School, Wenham, Mass., students also had a taste, all right—a taste for a little fine dining! The school nutrition team played classical music and distributed NSLW pencils and bookmarks reading “One Great Tray” to the students as they ate lunch. North Penn (Pa.) School District child nutrition operators offered elementary school students samples of new vegetable and whole-grain options during NSLW. The dishes included Three Bean, Black Bean and Corn Salads, Roasted Corn Salsa, Whole-Grain Mediterranean Rice Salad and Whole-Grain Cilantro Rice. The team helped spread the message of healthy school meals by doing a presentation for the Home and School Association (HSA) presidents throughout the district. The school nutrition staff explained the new regulations and offered samples of the new vegetable and grain recipes. According to Pamela Gallagher, SNS, coordinator of school nutrition services, the HSA presidents were very impressed with the new changes and expressed plans to help spread the message that school meals are healthy meals at future HSA meetings. Get With the Program Solving childhood obesity within a generation is an audacious goal and one that requires collaborative efforts among advocates all across a community. In Georgia’s Paulding County School District, an Activate for Kids initiative involves school nurses and wellness coordinators to address childhood obesity and related health issues through a coordinated community-based intervention that supports at-risk children in school and their families at home. The school nutrition teams in Paulding, Fulton County School System and several Atlanta-area districts also invited parents and other special guests to lunch to celebrate NSLW and to learn how to get involved in promoting healthier choices for students Alton (N.H.) Central School District school nutrition professionals observed NSLW by showcasing soups on the lunch menu. These same soups later were offered at a Friday night Fill the Bowl event, which was held to raise awareness of local groups that provide aid for disadvantaged members of the community. This program was brought to you by the video production class—well, at least it was in Red Bud Elementary School, Calhoun, Ga. The child nutrition team invited students from the video production class at nearby Sonoraville High School to film a tour of the kitchen area, showing the staff preparing lunch and the students going through the serving line. The high school students also filmed the elementary school’s take on a “hot dog run.” The school nutrition team at Harlan Elementary School, Florence, Ala., has a well-honed reputation for coordinating a fun and educational NSLW promotion that involves teachers, staff and students. The children enjoyed a 3rd-grade teacher’s take on the song “Hey, Good Lookin’” (featuring the well-known lyric “How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?”) that preceded a five-segment program about the merits of eating five produce items per day, reducing sugar intake, reading food and beverage labels and trying healthy food options at fastfood restaurants. Lunch tables were adorned with photos of students planting cabbage and turnip greens in the school’s new raised bed gardens appropriately named “Here We Grow.” Road Trip The focus on new delicious and nutritious items is something that’s “cookin’” at schools all year long, and you can continue to showcase your efforts for next year’s NSLW celebrations, highlighting “School Lunch Across the USA” for NSLW 2013. Whether you live in California, Louisiana, Maine or somewhere in between, it’s time for your school nutrition team to start prepping for this exciting cafeteria “road trip” that will stretch from one coast to the other. Chief on your “packing list” are menu ideas that honor and acknowledge our country’s culinary heritage. From clam chowder to fiesta salads and sweet barbecue to sourdough bread sandwiches, there are so many options to consider for your NSLW menus. Start by brainstorming some of the recipes best known in your own backyard. Then, as part of your “haven’t been there, but tried that—and it was pretty good!” adventure, consider mixing things up by menuing dishes that are hallmarks in other parts of the country. But first, if you have just finished celebrating National School Breakfast Week 2013, “Be a Star With School Breakfast,” don’t delay in sharing details and photos of your activities with School Nutrition. Send your report to NSBW Wrap-Up, School Nutrition, 120 Waterfront Street, Suite 300, National Harbor, MD 20745, or via e-mail to snmagazine@ schoolnutrition.org. You may find your experiences featured in the next NSBW review! Melissa Grant is communications coordinator for School Nutrition.
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