Schools address making healthy choices
SUMMIT COUNTY – Schools across the nation are looking at ways to improve cafeteria menus and help kids become more active and eat more healthfully. Summit County is no different.
“We have a lot of kids that are couch potatoes now, even in Summit,” said Wes Smith, superintendent of schools.
While school curriculums teach students about nutrition and healthy habits, the food and beverages available during the school day often are unhealthy – soda, pizza and chicken nuggets, for example – contradicting what the children are being taught.
“There are kids that will have a Mountain Dew and a candy bar … for breakfast,” said Stacy Joyce, a parent and registered dietician who has been a consulting nutritionist for the Summit County School District’s Nutrition Task Force. “They need to learn how to make good choices, and we need give them the tools to do that. We can’t tell them how to eat and just have sodas and candy bars in the vending machines. We need to be consistent by setting examples about healthy choices.”
“The whole idea of the Nutrition Task Force … is, what is the message we’re sending kids about food and fitness, and how can we improve that message so it serves the students well for the rest of their lives?” Smith said.
The Nutrition Task Force is examining not only nutrition, but also fitness and physical and health education.
Smith said the school is asking a number of questions about the subject:
– Do we have enough physical activity in schools that reaches the aerobic level?
– Do we have it often enough?
– Are we doing an adequate job of teaching life-long habits that will result in fitness?
– Are we teaching about the connection between the mind and the body?
“A lot of school districts are changing right now,” Joyce said. “I don’t see why we couldn’t be a leader in that movement.”
The Nutrition Task Force is scheduled to make recommendations to the school board later this month. Among their goals are to decrease the fat and sodium and increase the nutritional content of school lunches and to decrease the amount of caffeine and sugar in students’ diets by providing healthy substitutes for soda and candy in vending machines.
The high school already has implemented changes to its vending machine selection, said Holly Tompkins, school district nurse.
“We felt that it was all pop … and drinks that just had no nutritional value at all,” she said, adding that the high school increased the selection of juices and water offered in vending machines. Now almost half of the drinks offered in vending machines are juice, water or sport drinks, with the remainder soda.
School officials also surveyed the high school students about the food served in the cafeteria, Tompkins said. The students were asked to rate Summit High on food quality, nutritional value, dining atmosphere, food choices and overall satisfaction, among other topics.
According to the survey results, the high school scored below the national average for food quality, nutrition, atmosphere and variety, Tompkins said.
As a result, the task force also is looking into improving the high school cafeteria – to make it more visually appealing and more conducive for students to buy lunch at school, Joyce said.
The school district, too, has begun implementing some changes, Tompkins said. The schools now offer 1 percent milk instead of 2 percent or whole milk. They are piloting different yogurts at schools to determine students’ preferences. They are replacing canned fruits with fresh, when possible.
And students are welcoming the healthier choices, Tompkins and Joyce said.
“You can’t assume kids are always going to choose Coke,” Joyce said. “A lot of kids really like good food.”
“At the high school, they’re really psyched about the changes,” Tompkins said. “They’re all looking for … more variety and better nutrition.”
Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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