By Heidi A. Funkhouser 2014-03-27 08:01:44
Cafeterias nationwide celebrated National School Lunch Week 2013 by showcasing their own regional food specialties, while introducing students to exciting new tastes from all across the USA. Like Independence Day, National School Lunch Week (NSLW), the all-American commemoration of tasty, healthy school meals, comes but once a year. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s so fun to celebrate! But even more important, NSLW is always a perfect annual opportunity to remind students about the value of good nutrition—and how they can find many delicious ways to make healthy eating choices right in their school cafeteria! The 2013 theme, “School Lunch Across the USA,” inspired school nutrition professionals to serve up an abundance of creative activities designed to increase program participation, improve connections with parents and showcase the cafeteria program and staff to the community and media. From sea to shining sea, School Nutrition readers offered regional repasts, conducted patriotic promotions and put “local” in the limelight during NSLW last October. Join us for a cross-country sampling of celebrations held in districts large and small, located in big cities and tiny towns. Lunch, Left Coast Style A week just wasn’t enough for the Lodi (Calif.) Unified School District—school nutrition staff promoted NSLW for the entire month of October in all its school cafeterias! The team partnered with several groups to host unique nutrition education events and activities. For example, a local chef educated students at Vinewood Elementary School on the health benefits of beans and shared several different recipes, including a bean salad, hummus, red beans and rice, refried black bean tostada and barbecue beans. Some first-graders planted bean seeds as an introduction to understanding where food comes from and make the farm-to-fork connection. Fourth-and fifth-graders were introduced to different types of beans and their benefits through a variety of entertaining activities. Children also had the opportunity to assemble their very own chef hats. At Lodi High School, another local chef, along with the students enrolled in her class on American regional cooking at the International Culinary Program at the Art Institute of California–Sacramento, used NSLW as an opportunity to make a wider introduction of certain foods with great nutrition profiles. Demonstration tables were set up during lunch periods, and students could ask questions and try samples of black beans, sweet potato quinoa salad and wraps. Lodi school nutrition staff went beyond the cafeteria when teaming up with another nutrition instructor from the Art Institute. They challenged her to create a classroom contest for her nutrition students, asking them to develop appealing recipes that meet the new federal nutrition requirements. This project provided real world application opportunities for Art Institute students, while offering up new recipe and menu ideas for Lodi’s school nutrition staff. Much further inland, in tiny Judith Gap, Mont. (pop. 123!), a parents’ lunch held at its single K-12 school was a big success—but that wasn’t a huge surprise for Head Cook Ruth Walter, who reports 100% participation in the lunch program since the start of the 2013-14 school year. High school students helped serve the meal, which included pork roast with fresh farm-grown potatoes, wheat rolls, fresh watermelon, sweet potatoes and strawberry shortcake. Southwestern Celebrations The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) developed a state-wide campaign titled “Take a Texas-Size Taste Tour” that served as a complement to the “School Lunch Across the USA” NSLW theme. TDA’s intent was to promote recognition of schools’ efforts to offer students fresh foods, while showcasing the unique flavors and products unique to Texas. In a concurrent promotion, TDA launched a “Local Products Challenge” recognizing the annual October observance of National Farm to School Month. This inaugural challenge called on school nutrition programs to use more Texas products, especially in meals served during NSLW. To assist schools with planning menus featuring seasonal products, TDA provided a suggested menu featuring USDA-developed recipes and seasonal Texas products. A take-home menu template allowed schools to publicize their October menus, highlighting items that featured Texas ingredients. More than 35 schools districts participated in the TDA Challenge, and those that incorporated three or more local items each day earned a Golden Grapefruit Award. The Anthony (Texas) Independent School District is one system that featured at least three Texas-grown products daily in its NSLW menus. Wednesday was the highlight of the week, when local celebrities were lassoed in to make the celebration even more memorable for the children. Students, school nutrition staff and teachers all were encouraged to wear Western attire and showcase their Texan style. The town government provided a trailer decorated with hay stacks, saddles, cowboy silhouettes and a variety of banners from local farmers, and this served as a festive setting for an outside barbecue lunch, complete with country music. NSLW extended deeper into October at Raymondville (Texas) Independent School District, where the child nutrition service staff conducted a decorating contest with Texas-grown pumpkins. Elementary, middle and high school students participated by decorating their entries with health-related themes. To generate enthusiasm and awareness for NSLW and TDA’s “Local Products Challenge,” the school nutrition team at Round Rock (Texas) Independent School District communicated with parents about its upcoming activities through e-mail and Twitter. In particular, they focused their efforts among the district’s 33 elementary cafeterias, offering an average of three locally grown or produced items on menus each day. These included tomatoes, watermelon, baby carrots, cucumbers, oranges and grape-fruit. The team also was proud to report that the milk offered each day came from an area dairy. Promoting locally grown and produced products has been a goal for Harlingen (Texas) Consolidated Independent School District for some time now. So, when TDA announced its “Local Products Challenge” during NSLW, the district’s school nutrition staff eagerly jumped on board. Located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Harlingen is uniquely situated to capitalize on the area’s wealth of agricultural production; citrus and melons are among the crops produced there. Star fruit from a nearby nursery proved to be the real “shining star” of this NSLW celebration, as each of the district’s 18,000 students was introduced to the Texas fruit as a garnish atop fresh strawberries and grapes. For many years, San Antonio’s North East Independent School District has designated one day during NSLW to invite special guests to work behind the cafeteria line serving lunch at schools throughout the district. This year’s guest servers, including the Board of Trustees, superintendent and other district leaders, wore cowboy hats and red Texas aprons in recognition of TDA’s “Take a Texas-Size Taste Tour” campaign. “It is fun to have district administrators work behind the line, because they get to see how challenging it is to feed hundreds of students in a short period of time,” said Sharon Glosson, SNS, the district’s executive director of child nutrition. “They gain an appreciation for our department and employees. The students love to see new faces behind the line, especially their own principal.” Melissa Murray-Paez, director of child nutrition and warehouse services for Copperas Cove (Texas) Independent School District, reported that the student response to learning about local produce during NSLW was “awesome!” For example, “I showed students what a whole spaghetti squash looked like, then I cut it open and showed them what the inside looked like. I then told them how easy it was to cook and what it tasted like. I did this with a different type of produce each day during NSLW,” explained Murray-Paez. Taste-test participants also had the chance to win special prizes, which added to the overall excitement. A proclamation from the superintendent and school board made NSLW official in the La Vernia (Texas) Independent School District. Throughout the week, La Vernia students enjoyed a variety of activities and events, such as morning announcements detailing the components of a healthy lunch, prize drawings and trivia questions during lunch periods and taste tests of various Texas products—grapefruits were an especially big hit! Some students even worked in the kitchen and the serving lines. Glen Rose (Texas) Independent School District students were introduced to new foods, like honeydew melons, during NSLW. Dawn Foos, child nutrition coordinator, explained, “We just started [offering] the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, so [USDA has] been providing fresh fruits and vegetables that we don’t normally get, like blueberries and fresh pineapple.” Foos was impressed by how much her students enjoyed the unfamiliar tastes after being exposed to them through taste tests—and her efforts were rewarded with coverage in the local newspaper. A focus on proper nutrition was the point of a state fair-style game conducted at Raymond E. Curtis Elementary School in Weatherford, Texas. Students won a pencil for correctly identifying meal components. At nearby Bose Ikard Elementary School, also in Weatherford, students wrote essays on why it is important to eat a healthy lunch. Midwestern Hospitality At Summit Pointe Elementary School in Lee’s Summit, Mo., the serving and dining areas were decorated in red, white and blue, and everyone—from staff to students—was encouraged to wear these patriotic colors all week. During the festivities, students enjoyed tasty treats like apple crisp, a regional favorite, and had the opportunity to eat lunch with a VIP guest: Lee’s Summit’s mayor. Another school in Lee’s Summit also chose a patriotic-theme, but applied a bit of a twist. Not only was Sunset Valley Elementary decked out in red, white and blue and various American flag decorations, but students were given a very patriotic opportunity—a chance to vote! Students who purchased a meal during the week were able to “vote” for their favorite entrée, sandwich, pizza, breakfast for lunch, vegetable and fruit. The class with the highest voter turnout received coupons redeemable in the cafeteria for a free snack. Voter turnout was high, with more than 800 ballots cast over the three days of the parent/teacher conference-shortened school week. Among the tasty menu items served to students in Grand Forks (N.D.) Public Schools were pasta from North Dakota, radishes from Minnesota and oranges from Florida. A U.S. map highlighting the state where each of the foods originated was displayed in every cafeteria. A month prior to NSLW, food and nutrition staffers in the Elmbrook School District, Brookfield, Wis., were challenged to get their students excited about the yearly observance by decorating their respective kitchens and cafeterias. With a budget of just $15 per site, team members put on their thinking caps and came up with creative ways to represent the “School Lunch Across the USA” theme. From handmade colorful maps to brightly decorated nutrition posters, everyone gave 100% in an effort to create excitement for the week. Each site was judged on decorations and appearance, student/staff participation and overall experience. The top four schools received a catered lunch for their kitchen staff. Another NSLW-related challenge was accepted at Oak Park-Carpenter Elementary School, Overland Park, Kan. Students were tasked with calling on friends and family to collect cafeteria menus from school districts all across the country. They received examples from 24 states! The classroom with the most menus won a PTA-sponsored smoothie party. Each day, the Oak Park-Carpenter Huskies displayed their NSLW spirit by wearing a corresponding color from the MyPlate dietary guidance’s five food groups. Morning announcements included information about how different states—like their home state Kansas and its production of whole grains—play a part in encouraging healthy eating! The school added another wellness component to an already fun-filled week: Children were asked to track when they had completed 30 minutes (or more) of physical activity each day and when they tried a new food. A grand-prize winner was drawn from the participants and received a gift certificate to a local indoor trampoline park. Students and staff at Ellis Middle School, Elgin, Ill., enjoyed seeing what other school districts were serving up upon receipt of a number of collected menu examples that were then posted to a map of the United States. Water bottles donated by Kellogg’s were given to students who discovered a “Captain Nutrition” sticker on the bottom of their plates. Not too far away, the child nutrition services staff at Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, Indianapolis, Ind., adjusted the menu to include such regional favorites as chicken and noodles. They also teamed up with six chefs from the Indianapolis Culinary Federation to teach children at several district schools about the nutritious value—and great taste—of different types of squash (acorn, butternut and spaghetti). Good Eats Back East A school counselor kicked off the NSLW celebration at Harlan Elementary School, Florence, Ala., by borrowing a line from School Nutrition’s April 2013 preview article spotlighting the “School Lunch Across the USA” theme. “Lunch, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... spacious skies, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties. There sure is a lot to love about the USA!” she announced. The kids participated in a wide variety of motivating events and activities that promoted the importance of healthy eating habits. For example, each grade level made a presentation of important nutrients found in a “Five-Star Meal” (protein, vegetables, fruit, grains and dairy), featuring items from five U.S. regions. Also observing “National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day” during NSLW, Harlan’s child nutrition team transformed the cafeteria into a Hawaiian paradise for their visitors. The cafeteria serving lines were decorated with grass skirts and pineapple fruit arrangements, and the lunch tables were covered with colorful tablecloths and tropical flower centerpieces. Second-and fourth-grade student volunteers distributed Hawaiian leis—along with Choose My Plate brochures—to their adult guests. In Bessemer, Ala., Greenwood Elementary School child nutrition program (CNP) staff took a unique approach to NSLW’s theme by placing “a train” in the cafeteria for “students to hop on board and tour America!” (as described by CNP Supervisor Jennifer Gilbert). Other decorations focused on parts of the country that students could easily recognize from iconic landmarks, such as New Orleans and New York. Daily menus featured a variety of regional favorites like Philly cheese steak, Chicago deep-dish pizza and “Sweet and Southern” Memphis BBQ Chicken. Students at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, in Exeter, Pa., enjoyed an all-American-inspired lunch with their parents. The week-long NSLW menu featured many regional-inspired foods, including Southwest fajitas, Midwest Kansas City barbecue chicken bites, corn on the cob, fruited crumb pie, Northeast Philly cheese steaks, Boston baked beans, Idaho baked potato fries and Georgia peaches. Heading south, original student artwork and completed coloring pages downloaded from SNA’s NSLW 2013 Toolkit (made available with support from the Milk Processor Education Program) were prominently displayed in the student art gallery set up on the cafeteria wall, but it was a “Name Our Cow” contest that proved especially motivational for the students at North East (Md.) Elementary School! More than 63% of the school’s students eagerly participated in naming the large, blow-up plastic cow mascot—Milky MooMoo was the winning entry—that will be used to promote the school nutrition program throughout the year. The promotion helped to bump milk consumption beyond NSLW. In the Bluegrass State, Irvington (Ky.) Elementary School students and staff dressed the part when they donned costumes that represented different regions of the United States. School nutrition staff sent home a guide detailing daily NSLW-themed celebrations, offering suggestions, such as fiesta style-ponchos, sombreros, skirts and blouses to represent the Southwest. The promotion materials also included the corresponding menu items for each day; for example, taco with scoops or stuffed breadsticks, shredded lettuce/tomato, refried beans and salsa were featured on the day that celebrated the Southwest. Students who dressed up were eligible for prizes, including a grand-prize lunch date with the assistant superintendent of schools and the school nutrition director. A family fiesta lunch was the perfect way to celebrate at Grantham (N.H.) Village School. Enjoyed by an array of visitors from parents to grandparents to local community members, the Southwest-inspired menu of tacos with all the fixings and apple churros for dessert was right on target. Score Points With NSLW Now that we’ve reminded you about all the fun you had last October, keep in mind that you can use the popular ideas and activities you worked so hard to develop all throughout the year. “School Lunch Across the USA” is an evergreen theme that you can celebrate in all four seasons. In particular, consider increasing the frequency of those delicious new menu items you introduced during NSLW. Next up, it’s time to start thinking about NSLW 2014— remember, the early bird gets the worm! “Get in the Game With School Lunch” is this year’s theme, and it’s all about emphasizing the importance of balancing healthy eating and physical activity. What a great message and the perfect opportunity for coordinating more cafeteria fun and excitement with sports/activity-themed decorations, games, menus and more. Your promotion options are limited only by your imagination: Partner up with your school’s PE teacher, dress up your cafeteria, invite parents to attend lunch, collect sports trivia and nutrition facts and survey kids on their favorite menu items and their sports. Start early, so you have time to craft a winning celebration! Because you will want to suit up and get in the game next fall! According to SNA research, a whopping 80% of those who participate in NSLW see an increase in program participation. And this year’s theme combining healthy eating and physical activity is sure to resonate with parents, administrators, teachers and community leaders, putting your program in the positive spotlight it deserves. Check out all the details in “Get the Ball Rolling on NSLW 2014,” starting on page 24. And finally, did you celebrate National School Breakfast Week 2014, “Take Time for School Breakfast” last month? If so, we want to hear about it. Send the details and corresponding photos to NSBW Recap, School Nutrition, 120 Waterfront Street, Suite 300, National Harbor, MD 20745, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may find your hard work detailed in the next NSBW review this fall! Heidi Funkhouser is a communications consultant for SNA and former associate editor of this publication. FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY KIWI magazine partnered with SNA to promote a component of NSLW—“National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day”—by encouraging its readers to visit their children’s schools and enjoy a cafeteria lunch together. Kiwi offered suggestions to parents, such as organizing a Lunch Day event to help promote nutrition education. This partnership also generated several helpful resources (such as a checklist of tips), as well as an inspirational video. KIWI magazine promotes healthy families, emphasizing green and organic lifestyles. In addition to a number of websites (kiwimagonline.com, myhealthyschool.com, allergyfriendlycooking.com, kiwishop.com and greenmomsmeet.com), it publishes a bi-monthly print and digital magazine.
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