Students enjoying healthy alternatives to traditional cafeteria favorites
On March 18, students at Alfred Elementary left their cafeteria with the usual belly full of nutritious food and a bigger-than-usual smile on their faces. For not the first time this school year, Superintendent Dr. John Davis had just finished serving students homemade pigs-in-a-blanket, made with turkey dogs and whole wheat dough, alongside Regional School Unit #57 School Nutrition Director Lynnette Harriman. Dottie Janotta, administrative assistant for the district nutrition program, was wrapping up her usual shift greeting students at the salad bar in order to assist Davis and Harriman in serving fresh carrots, kernel corn and kiwi slices.
Thanks to recently updated standards issued by the USDA, school meals across the nation are finally changing for the better: cafeterias are being stocked with healthier options and teachers and school staff are playing a bigger role than ever in the success of school lunch. Northern York County’s RSU #57 offers a prime example of how Maine schools are making changes.
“Being that I’m new to the district, serving lunch at the schools gives students the opportunity to meet me while also providing a chance for me to understand what challenges our nutrition staff are facing so I can help with strategies for improvement,” commented Dr. Davis as he served.
While Dr. Davis interacted with each of the 150 students who participated in school lunch, Kitchen Manager Cris Morison and Baker/Cook Vanessa Richardson circulated the cafeteria with a new chickpea recipe for students to taste test.
“These are so yummy!” exclaimed two 1st graders, Ella and Chelsea, as others combined their chickpeas with the corn on their plates. Like many school lunch programs, Davis and Harriman’s is introducing more lean meats, beans, and legumes as a substitute for the usual fatty and sodium-packed sources of protein. Gone are the days of Salisbury steak and “mystery meat.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enacted more nutrition-focused requirements for school meals including stricter standards on fats, sodium, and calories, the inclusion of more (and more varied) fruits and vegetables, and a predominance of whole grains. Having seen the new standards phased in over the last three years, many students have only recently seen the direct impact on their lunch tray. For health advocates and educators, the hope is that the transformation extends to not just their bodies but their brains as well: research strongly supports the association between good nutrition and improved academic performance and behavior.
In Maine, school districts have received assistance in implementing the meal changes by the state Department of Education, local Healthy Maine Partnerships and by the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go! program. Harriman sits on a work group composed of 11 Southern Maine school nutrition directors and facilitated by Let’s Go! personnel, including Let’s Go! York County’s Reegan Brown, that meets bi-monthly to discuss the new standards and trouble-shoot their implementation. “Let’s Go! York County commends RSU #57 for embracing these changes and setting a good example for how school cafeterias can encourage children’s healthy choices,” said Brown in a statement.
About Partners for Healthier Communities
Partners for Healthier Communities (PHC) at Southern Maine Health Care (SMHC) is a community coalition bringing together interested people to promote and improve the health and well-being of residents in York County, Maine. PHC provides general resources and can help with policy development on areas such as tobacco, physical activity, nutrition, and substance abuse prevention in the towns of Sanford/Springvale, Acton, Alfred, Waterboro, Shapleigh, Lyman, Limerick, Limington, Parsonsfield, Newfield, and Cornish. PHC is one of 27 local Healthy Maine Partnerships (HMP). The HMP initiative is a collaborative effort among local coalitions, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MECDC), Department for Health & Human Services (DHHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHS) and the Department of Education (DOE). The HMP initiative is supported primarily by the Fund for Healthy Maine with federal grants from the U.S. CDC, SAMHS, and DOE. For more information please visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/partnersforhealthiercommunities.
About 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go!
Let’s Go! is a nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program. Our goal is to increase physical activity and healthy eating for children from birth to 18 through policy and environmental change. Let’s Go! has six programs, otherwise known as sectors, to reach families where they live, learn, work and play to reinforce the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. Let’s Go!, a program of The Kids CO-OP at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, is implemented in partnership with MaineHealth. In addition, Let’s Go! and Maine CDC/DHHS have engaged in a public private partnership to improve the health of youth and families through the work of the Healthy Maine Partnerships. For more information please visit http://www.letsgo.org/about-us.