Local kids learning about nutrition in school programs
School districts in Lee and Collier counties have fully embraced “local sourcing,” along with utilizing healthy recipes. Fruits and vegetables have become even more of a focal point in school cafeterias, when compared with decades past.
The districts are also striving to ensure all students have access to that most important meal of the day, breakfast, by providing it at schools.
And the emphasis isn’t on only what is consumed during the school day. The districts are also employing a variety of methods to impart nutritional knowledge to youths and their families.
“Over the last decade, studies have shown, that this current generation will be the first to not outlive their parents,” said Lauren Couchois, supervisor of food and nutrition services for the School District of Lee County. “Studies relate this back to childhood obesity. I think that opened the country’s eyes, including the government, to the fact that we need to do something.”
The Federal Healthy Hunger- Free Kids Act of 2010 includes requirements for using whole grains, lowering fat and sodium content, and a greater focus on fruits and vegetables, things her school district had been doing for years, said Couchois.
Dawn Houser, director of nutrition services for Collier County Public Schools, said she has been working with Oakes Farms, the district’s produce distributor, “to identify local farms and farms all over the state,” as sources for fruits and vegetables.
She said Collier is the only school district listed in the farmers’ “Blue Book,” which is an information clearinghouse for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry that serves suppliers, buyers, brokers and transporters.
“Collier is listed as a buyer, which is a way for farmers to see that we’re looking for farms to purchase produce from,” said Houser.
Despite Collier County’s relative wealth, poverty and hunger exist for many families, a fact the school district addresses through its food service.
Houser said that since becoming director in 2008, she’s been able to have the district’s federal reimbursement for school meal programs increased, which enabled the breakfast program to expand. The reimbursement is based on the numbers of free, reduced and paid meals.
Breakfasts are free to students.
“All the studies show that students who consume breakfast at the beginning of the day perform better academically and it reduces discipline issues and there are fewer visits to the nurse,” said Houser. “The students sit down and they’re ready to learn.”
In the Lee County school district, frying has been replaced by baking and if pizza is on the menu, it’s of the whole-grain, low sodium variety.
Healthy Living Lab program.
The in-school program provides health and nutrition information to students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It starts with information and samplings of fresh fruits and vegetables for beginning grades and concludes with fifth graders consuming freshly made salsa prepared with fresh Florida ingredients.
“We also go out into the community on weekends with the Healthy Living Lab and the Fitness Lab to promote healthy living through proper nutrition,” Couchois said. “We do meetings with the kids through their student advisory committee to educate them about the foods we’re serving in the cafeteria. We try to do a lot to educate the community on what we’re doing.”
Her department gets the word out through community events, the district’s website, the press, PTA meetings and more. “It’s any way we can,” Couchois added.
In the independent school category, nutrition is center stage as well. The Community School of Naples’ first on-campus dining hall debuted on February 1. The grand opening also marked the first meals prepared by the school’s new food service provider, Maryland-based Sage Dining.
“It was a big day,” said David Watson, CSN head of school. “Sage has very, very healthy options. The sort of school lunches that you and I remember, are totally gone. It’s about local sources and healthy choices today.
“Those options that Sage Dining gives us are also extended to food education in the sense that Sage is also interested in educating the children as to why cleanliness, agriculture and locally produced products are important.”