District 13 meeting the challenge of creating healthier schools
The challenge is a voluntary certification initiative established in 2004 to recognize schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity.
At the Nov. 13 Columbia Heights School Board meeting, Director of Finance and Operations Bill Holmgren said out of about 450 school districts in Minnesota, 18 have received awards. He added that any district can apply.
The Food and Nutrition Service, which is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, identifies schools that have made changes to improve the quality of foods served, provide students with nutrition education, and provide students with physical education and opportunities for physical activity.
Rynetta Renford, manager of food services for the Columbia Heights School District, said changes were made gradually to the cafeteria menus.
She said that providing whole grain items was the biggest challenge at first because most vendors weren’t carrying a lot of whole grains. The food industry has since improved and continues to improve.
A few of the other changes involved offering a different vegetable each day of the week, a different fruit at least two times a week, and a fresh fruit at least two times a week.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s very hard work, but kids were used to eating a specific rotation of food,” Renford said.
Schools receiving a challenge award will commit to meeting the criteria throughout their four-year certification period. Schools will plan meals that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; that include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.