In December of 2010 the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act was signed into federal law as part of reauthorization of funding for child nutrition in the United States. The law raised standards for healthy and nutritious school lunches, to include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Implementation of the new standards were a challenge for school districts across the country, but statistics show that children are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit, and childhood obesity rates nationwide are declining. Millions of children rely on school meals for critical nutrition.
While I appreciated the opportunity to speak with current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue during his recent visit to Nevada, I am discouraged to see that the USDA is now loosening the standards established in 2010.
Here in Nevada Schools, our lunch program has recognized an increase in participation for the second year in a row. This has been accomplished with students selecting more nutritional lunches, which are lower in calories, and consuming more fruits and vegetables, as well as larger shares of healthier entrée selections.
During the past couple of years, we have worked diligently to develop a nutritious and cost-effective menu that appeals to Nevada students. These improvements start with an unbelievably caring food service staff. They have embraced change and have helped to move the food service department in a positive direction. Whether through taste tests with our students, or interventions of serving fruits and veggies by cutting/dicing instead of serving whole, they are focused on palatability.
Kevin Cooper and his dedicated FFA students also deserve recognition. The Food Service Department’s partnership with Nevada FFA has made Nevada one of the biggest farm-to-school programs in the state of Iowa. Cooper’s relationships with area businesses and farmers has blossomed the school lunch program. We now offer 17 different fruits and vegetables in our lunch program from the fields of Story County and items grown in the district’s greenhouse.
This past October, our district was recognized by a visit from the USDA. National representatives visited our schools and fields for our continued efforts with farm-to-school contributions that have helped the nutritional health and well-being of students. Our visitors were amazed at what people can do collectively and the benefits it produces.
I’d also like to recognize the vision of Superintendent Dr. Steve Gray, our school board and others who said “yes” to a kitchen remodel three years ago, built a greenhouse for an outdoor classroom, added a vegetable Jacuzzi in the high school kitchen which helps to clean thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables to get them from fields to the trays of our students and for continuing to support improvements within our entire nutrition program.
We are moving in the right direction. My goal has always been to encourage our students in Nevada to establish better eating habits. If we “capture” them now, they will likely continue healthy habits into adulthood. Should you have questions regarding our services, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Schmitz is the director of food service for the Nevada School District.