Child nutrition changes are a national model for schools
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognized the West Virginia School Nutrition Standards Policy on its website as a model for school systems in the United States.
The state’s plan has been to “improve the nutritional quality of foods available in schools and reduce marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children,” according to a state Department of Education press release.
Morgan County Schools Child Nutrition Director Kristie Randall said that West Virginia was a pioneer in child nutrition and had been the only state to implement state-wide changes in school nutrition policy.
They had also worked to get manufacturers and vendors to meet new nutritional guidelines. Randall said it would be easier now that other states would have to adhere to new guidelines.
Dairies have had to change their production since schools have moved to using 1% and skim milk instead of 2% percent milk. Flavored milks are now skim.
New federal child nutrition guidelines for the 2012-2013 will come out in May. Most changes are things that are already in place in West Virginia schools, she said.
Her only concern is pending restrictions on serving sizes for starchy vegetables, which had been out for public comment. Starchy vegetables include some kid favorites, such as potatoes, corn, peas and lima beans.
They just requested 85/15 beef instead of 80/20 from their vendors for the next school year. They ask every year, but it’s difficult to get since it’s an eight-county bid.
“We’re hoping they can meet that demand,” Randall said.
Morgan County Schools began State School Superintendent Jorea Marple’s Breakfast Initiative, which included breakfast “Grab and Go” options. Randall feels kids like having the additional choice.
Every morning for breakfast they offer fresh or canned fruit as an extra component to provide fiber and nutrients along with juice.
Kids can now get the main meal and the salad bar together as a meal at the secondary level, she said. They’ve always had the salad bar, but before it was offered as a choice.
Other changes have included banning home-baked desserts at school parties. Baked items must be pre-packaged, have a nutritional label and meet dietary guidelines.
They have so many kids with allergies and who are diabetic that have to count carbohydrates and sugar in foods, Randall said.
Children must have a minimum of five servings of whole grains per week and a varying total number of grains per week according to grade level. Beans have to be served once a week. Kids receive two ounces of protein or a protein alternative daily and must have eight ounces of milk daily.
A set number of fresh fruits and vegetables is required for different ages, some of which have to be fresh. Randall varies texture and temperature, having a hot vegetable with a sandwich with lettuce and tomato or a crunchy fresh vegetable with hot soup.
They’ve taken a lot of products off their bid list since they no longer meet nutritional guidelines. Gone from school meals are sauerkraut and bacon bits for salads, which are high in sodium. Missing also are pickles, which are too high in sodium and sugar.
“Kids love their pickles. They always ask for them,” Randall said.
Bacon has been gone for years, but they can use Canadian ham. They’ve added a deliciously tender pulled chicken breast, which can be used for chicken barbecue salad.
Randall said she keeps trying to find new things. She hopes to try country fried steak and making their own pizza at the smaller schools.
Kids’ favorites include pizza, chicken nuggets, beef vegetable and chicken noodle soups, spaghetti, beef tacos, chili, Salisbury steak, hot turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, chicken over biscuit and rice dishes, apple crisp, whole wheat sugar cookies and a chocolate cake, which is more like a brownie.
They’ve added lower sodium and lower fat salad dressings. Randall would like to enlist a local restaurant chef to train cooks to make dressing that meets guidelines and also tastes good.
Randall said she feels good about where schools are with all the nutritional changes, which have been in place since 2005.
Staff encourages students to take everything that’s offered on the menu so they meet their required dietary needs for the day.
Teachers and principals eat with students in the cafeterias every day, model good nutrition and encourage kids to try new foods, especially at the elementary level.
Randall has done child nutrition workshops and trainings for principals, teachers and parents to help communicate the reasons behind nutritional choices.