One memorable menu was pepperoni pizza on whole grain crust, whole kernel corn, steamed broccoli and strawberries.
Kitty Stone Elementary held tasting parties of fresh fruits and vegetables for the students and if a classroom cleaned their plates, the students got to plan a day’s lunch menu, said Stephanie Gossett, director of the child nutrition program for Jacksonville City Schools. The menu novelties are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS School Challenge, intended to improve the health of the nations children.
Kitty Stone was one of nine local schools recognized recently by the USDA for their efforts to make their school’s food healthier.
Cobb, Constantine, Golden Springs, Randolph Park and Tenth Street elementary schools in the Anniston City school system and Saks, Walter Wellborn and White Plains elementary schools in the Calhoun County school system were awarded the Gold Award of Distinction. Kitty Stone Elementary School in the Jacksonville City school system was awarded a Gold Award in the challenge.
The awards signify the schools have gone beyond the USDA guidelines for the food served at the school to the more stringent and holistic guidelines in the challenge. The challenge guidelines not only include the food offered at the school but also nutrition education and a minimum amount of structured and unstructured physical activity for students. A school must provide 90 minutes of physical activity per week at the Gold level and 150 minutes per week at the Gold Award of Distinction level.
“We can’t fix in one or two meals a day everything that happens outside the classroom,” Gossett said, so the goal of the challenge is to teach the students how to make healthier choices outside of school, she said.
Teri NeSmith, child nutrition program manager at Saks Elementary, said students now have more choices when they go through the lunch line, the choices change every day. For instance, bread one day may be a whole-grain roll, the next day may be a whole-grain pasta and the next day it may be cornbread.
Even the recipes have changed, NeSmith said. They’re cooking more foods from scratch at Saks Elementary, she said. Things like prepared seasoning packets or sauces often have too much sodium in them, NeSmith said.
Superintendent Joan Frazier said the Anniston City school system had started working on its menu about a year ago in preparation for the changes.
“We had to look at what we were serving and the amounts we were serving,” Frazier said. “It’s extremely complicated.”
They had to keep the fats, proteins and carbohydrates in mind as they tweaked their recipes and even small changes could impact how the meals were put together, she said.
But the changes are noticeable, said Wellborn Elementary principal Douglas O’Dell.
“It just tastes better,” O’Dell said. “We even have more teachers that are eating in the lunchroom.”
The challenge looks at the lunch menu, the breakfast menu and the snacks offered in the school, he said.
According to the program guidelines, snacks, alternative foods to the lunchroom offerings and food items sold through a school store have to contain less than 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance of sugar, fat and sodium limits for a gold award of distinction. That means no more than 200 milligrams for side items and no more than 480 milligrams for entres.
The nutrition education is offered in the classroom, NeSmith said. The USDA provided curriculum that can be worked into almost any lesson including math, science or English at all the grade levels, she added.
Frazier said the school system didn’t have to change its physical education opportunities for students. But she appreciated the way the challenge linked the food with the physical and nutrition education for the students.
“It reinforces the studies in both health and P.E.,” Frazier said.
It’s also changed the philosophy in the school system, Frazier added. For instance, Frazier said, if a school is doing a fundraiser, it may consider selling fruit rather than cookie dough.
NeSmith agreed. She has noticed that students are making healthier choices. At the beginning of the year, the students complained about some of the new restrictions. But now, they take the vegetables and fruits with no complaint.
“It’s a learned habit,” NeSmith said. “You’re going to see healthier kids in the end.”
The schools join 179 Alabama public schools that have earned designations through the challenge. Alabama had 75 schools that earned Gold Awards of Distinction, more than any other state.
The guidelines to meet the various levels of distinction are very strict, said Debbi Beauvais, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics by email.
“The foods offered are healthy,” Beauvais said. “More fruits and vegetables, increased whole grain options and milk is low-fat or fat free. So these are better choices than may have been offered before and also healthy choices.”
Lincoln Elementary School in Talladega County, Evelyn D. Houston Elementary in Talladega City and Pinecrest Elementary in Sylacauga City also earned Gold Awards of Distinction.
All the schools received cash awards for their efforts. Gold Award of Distinction winners received $2,000 and Gold Award winners received $1,500. The money has to be used for something related to the school’s child nutrition program, Frazier said.
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.