Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Taking Action to Opimize School Meals for Our Children

For well over 100 years, we have know that school meals make good economic sense for children's individual health, as well as for the health and welfare of society as a whole. The issues were clearly outlined in a 1910 article in the New York Times magazine.

Change the prices to reflect today's economy - and very little has actually changed in the past century. Experts know that high quality school meals are critical for health and academic success - and legislators balk at committing the funds necessary to do the job right.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization (originally due to be addressed in 2009) was extended to 2010 and is now languishing in Congress as the August recess looms. While many argue about the ways that school meals need to be enhanced, there seems to be a lack of political will to actually appropriate the necessary funds.

If you believe that that optimal school meals need adequate funding, urge your senators and representative to take action NOW. Everyone who cares about kids, schools, and nutrition should be in close contact with Washington legislative offices NOW. Congress does have a lot on their plate this session, but that's no reason to leave kids with empty plates. The 2010-2011 USDA reimbursement rates (maximum of $1.76 for breakfast and $2.74 for lunch) are simply not adequate to continue the improvements that we all want to see.

Need help understanding the legislation or contacting YOUR folks in DC? There are plenty of sites that make it easy:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Want to improve school nutrition? Put the kids in charge!

While I am always an advocate of strong wellness policies, health advisory councils, and standards for nutrient-rich foods, too many supporters of school nutrition improvements have neglected the potential of the most powerful change agents on campus - STUDENTS. Check out what the Fuel Up To Play 60 (FUTP60) team at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, were able to do:
  • More than double breakfast participation in just 5 months (average jumped from around 330 to 680+ in a school with 1,000 students)
  • Make a noticeable decrease in the number of students bringing chips and soft drinks from the corner store to school
  • Begin popular Tae Bo and "Girls Club" before/after-school classes for kids who were not into traditional athletics
And, this all happened in a very diverse, low-income school where 93.5% of students qualify for free/reduce meals!!

A dedicated group of 12 students (with strong support, good advisors, and excellent listeners among the adult staff) used the FUTP60 program to get their peers involved in eating smarter and moving more. They got them to sign pledges, to grab a breakfast, and to join before/after-school fitness activities.

Why? Kids know what matters to kids. Students said that the Grab-and-Go breakfast would be more popular in clear bags (rather than brown paper), so that kids could see what they were getting. Since over 2/3 of Arlington students now kick-start their morning with breakfast, looks like the kids were right. (BTW - the clear bag holds a low-fat or yogurt, a fruit, and a whole grain cereal/bar/waffle.) Kids suggested that some girls were intimidated by male peers in exercise classes - and "Girl Club" for fitness was born.

Bottom line: Kids can energize kids in ways that no adult, policy, or regulation ever can. Getting kids to embrace healthy habits is about more than legislation, regulation, and education - it's about internal, intrinsic motivation that comes from the heart.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Students Can Rock Their Food and Fitness Worlds

How do you more than double breakfast participation in an at-risk middle school? How do you get vulnerable middle school kids participating in before- and after-school activity programs? At Arlington Middle School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the answer has been impressively simple: Put the kids in charge. With strong support from administration and school foodservice, a dedicated group of 12 middle school students (and their PE teacher/advisor) have implemented an incredibly successful Fuel Up To Play 60 program.

I've talked about FUTP60 here before for three important reasons:
  • FUTP60 focuses on student led changes: This is a different model than most school health improvements where adult staff (and sometimes parents) decide what is right for kids.
  • FUTP60 combines positive nutrition and fun activity: Kids want to know what to eat (rather than what to avoid) and they want to have fun moving in a non-threatening environment.
  • FUTP60 has a strong support system: As partnership of National Dairy Council and the NFL, FUTP60 brings both solid health education techniques and star power to local schools.
Over the next few days I'm going to explore FUTP60 - using the Lawrence example - in more detail. That's because these reasons are fundamental in figuring out how we are going to solve the weight, nutrition, and health problems facing our youth today.

The Lawrence middle school students pictured here really do hold the keys to a healthy future in their hands.


Monday, July 5, 2010

A NEW-trition Badge

Sometimes the Internet can feel like a scouting adventure. We're out there exploring all sorts of sites and topics - hoping (sometimes desperately) to find timely, accurate information for our families, clients, or work. This past week, I felt even more like a scout when I earned a new online "badge" from the newly formed Nutrition Blog Network. I am proud to be among the 61 RDs (Registered Dietitians) featured on the network's website. So far, it looks like I am the only one focusing primarily on school nutrition issues.

Click on the badge to your right - and you can quickly scan the wide variety of nutrition, food, and fitness topics offered by these RD bloggers: recipes and menus, tips and advice, personal experiences, and promotions for products. Some of the blogs may have exactly what you've been looking for, while others may be not be compatible with your (or my) nutrition philosophy. It's like a wonderful nutrition buffet - you can choose to sample as much or as little as you like. I'm honored to be on the menu - and proud to have a Nutrition Blog Network badge of my own!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Celebrating the 4th with Grilled Salmon

In honor of the July 4th holiday, I am taking the day off from child/school nutrition issues to share a delicious recipe - one that definitely deserves a place on your grill this summer. Grilled Citrus Salmon is the featured recipe in the July 2010 Healthy Families newsletter from Eat Right Montana. As pictured here, I served it on a bed of saut├ęd garlic spinach - with grilled sweet potatoes (rubbed with olive oil and curry powder, topped with light sour cream), and lightly steamed, fresh-from-the-garden peas. A simple and tasty adaption of a traditional mid-summer dish ...

You can find the recipe in one of several ways:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Following Roosevelt's Advice to Rock Meals in Montana

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Theodore Roosevelt

Both these beautiful meals are wonderful examples of how creative, caring school nutrition professionals have learned to make the most out of what they have - out here on the frontier in Big Sky country, Montana! Both meals take advantage of commodities to keep costs low, while maximizing nutrition in every way possible. While neither lunch might meet every standard of nutrition perfection proposed by some critics of school meals, they are appealing, nutrient-rich, and popular with students. These are small, relatively-isolated Montana school nutrition programs doing amazing things with what they have, where they are. As one admirer put it, "If Ronan can do it, any district can!"

Some things are easier in schools with 800 to 1,000 students; others things are harder. Massive volume make some aspects of foodservice harder, but it also provides economies of scale. Having a relatively small kitchen means some items are easier to prepare from scratch, but being on an Indian reservation in northern Montana means that many ingredients are harder to obtain.

Here is what's in these meals:
  • Dana Brandt, Head Cook at Belgrade High School (800 students, 23% free/reduced), serves lean chicken breast (not breaded) on whole wheat rotini - topped with spaghetti sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese. She completes the menu with a fresh lettuce/spinach salad, fresh fruit mix, mixed veggies or carrot sticks, bread (garlic bread, whole wheat breadsticks, or whole wheat roll), and milk. The rotini, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, and whole wheat flour are all commodities to keep costs down - and the meal is very popular with teens!
  • Marsha Wartick, Food Service Director, in Ronan, Montana (1,200 students total, 63% free/reduced), knows how to serve healthful and popular options. The school is known for their whole wheat banana bread (recipe taught in Montana Team Nutrition Cooking Classes), fruit cups, and chicken quesadillas. According to Marsha: The best chicken is the commodity fajita, chopped into bite size pieces, along with commodity shredded cheddar cheese. We still use the white tortilla, however with wheat now available, this would be a good choice. Our kids tell us that this is one of their favorite meals - with a nice tossed salad, fresh fruit, whole grain rolls, and milk.