Eat. Play. Learn. K is for KALE

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

K is for KALE

This blog series has been less food-focused that much of my writing – since the goal was to explore more broadly on the connections between academic/school success and overall nutrition/fitness. I want to talk here about kale in a broader ‘symbolic’ sense than about it’s nutrient values or trendy culinary reputation. Although I do have to admit that a vegetable with its own national celebration is pretty cool – more at National Kale Day (where you can now download your own Kale Hero Kit!).

Kale is a hardy and versatile veggie. It’s a successful outdoors in southern winters and a grows great in northern greenhouses during the cold months as well (the photo below is a January posting from FoodCorps Massachusetts). This means that kale is perfect for school year gardens where it gives many children their first taste of dark green leaves. It is versatile in the kitchen – delicious raw in salads, cooked in soups and perhaps, most importantly, as the surprisingly crispy and popular kale chip. An article in the Huffington Post – Kale: Benefits Beyond Nutrition – got me thinking about how much this humble green is helping children learn about growing, preparing and enjoying new foods. Kale is a combination of the ultimate local food – and the gateway to a whole nutrition world.

For more about kale chips in schools, please read my HuffPo article on Kale Chips for 8,000 and Other Farm-to-school Successes by the Numbers.

FoodCorps Massachusetts at the Food Project

FoodCorps Massachusetts at the Food Project

Eat. Play. Learn. G is for GARDEN

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

G is for GARDEN

It this point in the cold winter, it warms my heart to think about school gardens. Of course, I also get a envious when I see Florida school gardens that are green and lush when the snow is nearly a foot deep in Montana!

Why include gardens in talking about the learning connection? Students can learn all sorts of things in a school garden – botany, biology, chemistry, ecology and math to name a few. Growing food also provides the most direct, tangible connection to nutrition. I often say, if they grow it, they will eat it – there really is no better way to teach healthy eating habits than in a garden.

Here are four photos to represent the diversity and similarities of school gardens in the USA – just looking at them makes spring a little bit closer!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard's 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students!

February 2014: Mrs. Donna Stoddard’s 2nd grade class in Read-Pattillo Elementary, New Smyrna Beach (FL) are growing kale, radishes, sunflowers, parsley, cilantro, peas, sweet onions, carrots, kohlrabi, potatoes and green peppers in their school garden! Lucky students! Thanks Fresh for Florida Kids!

June 2014: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

June 2013: Alaska Elementary School Garden, Thanks Alaska Farm to School!

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the "Garden of Learning," Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

March 2013: AMAZING lettuce planted, grown and harvested in the “Garden of Learning,” Gary A Knox Elementary School, Crane, Arizona

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

April 2012: University City High School Garden, Philadelphia, PA, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favorite urban school garden.

EVERY DAY GOODNESS: Smart Photos of School Meals (Part 2)

Why are we spending so much time on school food photo tips? When people see a few yucky photos of school meals, they think that all school meals are bad. When they see bright, beautiful, colorful foods served in your outstanding programs, they begin to understand all school meals in a different way. Public opinion about school meals is literally in your hands. School Meals That Rock wants the world to see accurate, current, positive images of school nutrition.

That’s why we are sharing tips for better school food photos. Part 1 featured tips on tray color and background; this post offers three suggestions about the food itself.

Salad Bar section from Billerica, Massachusetts

Salad Bar section from Billerica, Massachusetts

Tip #4: GO WITH BRIGHT COLORS. There’s no need to always show a complete tray. Look throughout your kitchen and cafeteria for brilliant combinations of colors. This small section of a salad bar has a great mix of red and yellows. It demonstrates the variety of produce options available to student and is very appealing. Thanks to Dina Fordyce Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator, Billerica Public Schools for taking it and sharing it. You can learn more about their program by following them at Billerica Schools Nutrition Services on Facebook.

Vegetables from the line in Timpview High School, Provo, Utah

Vegetables from the line in Timpview High School, Provo, Utah

Tip #5: SHOW CONTRASTING COLORS AND SHAPES. Whether on a line or on a tray, contrast is good. These fresh, local green beans look nice by themselves, but see how much more appealing they look in contrast to the steamed butternut squash. Thanks to Colleen Dietz for her amazing collection for school food photos from schools in Provo, Utah. She has done an outstanding job of encouraging staff throughout the district to document excellence in school nutrition. You see learn a lot by following Provo’s work on Facebook at ITS Meals at Provo School District.

Dramatic display of fruits and vegetables from Jackson-Madison County School System, Tennessee

Dramatic display of produce from Jackson-Madison County School System, Tennessee

Tip #6: SHOW LAYERS OF COLOR. Multiple shelves in a cafeteria line can be an impressive way to display food – and to encourage students to take and eat items. Layers also make dramatic photographs, especially when they are filled with bright colors. Susan Johnson, School Nutrition Director, from Jackson-Madison County School System in Tennessee, share some knock-out photos with us. This one is from Liberty Technology Magnet High School, where some of the vegetables are grown in a hydroponic greenhouse.

Why You Should Support School Breakfast … from HuffPo Parents

A school nutrition director recently wrote to me about how difficult it was to start a Breakfast in the Classroom program in her Pennsylvania school district. One parent had gone so far as to write a blog about the fact that her child did not need breakfast because “she ate at home.” As the director said in her message to me, “I’m beginning to lose sight of why I ever wanted to do this in the first place. I’m sure that the majority of the students and parents will appreciate my efforts, it’s just those few who tend to bring one down!”

Thanks to Betsy, I was inspired to write my second article for The Huffington Post Parents page on “Why You Should Support School Breakfast, Even If Your Kid Eats at Home.” Check it out and find out the three things that every parent can do to support breakfast at school, like signing up for Fuel Up to Play 60.

My mantra: Breakfast every day for every day. At home or at school, breakfast changes lives – and t’s the very least we can do for education.

Breakfast Changes Lives

Breakfast Changes Lives

Six Back-to-School Lunch Spots: Where I would take Julia Child for a bite (Part 1, Western states)

As a devoted fan of Julia Child since the days of the earliest days of The French Chef on black and white TV, I know that she was always a culinary and educational trendsetter. Back in 1995, she was a co-founder of Days of Taste®, a national discovery-based program of The American Institute of Wine & Food for 4th and 5th graders. “In this age of fast and frozen food, we want to teach school children about real food – where it is grown and how it is produced – so that they can develop an understanding and appreciation of how good food is supposed to taste.”

Last week was the 101st anniversary of Julia Child’s birth – an event that I always honor personally and professionally. As I was updating the daily entries on School Meals That Rock, I realized how much Julia Child would love to see the very real revolution that has take place in school meals. Fresh, local, lovingly prepared and beautifully served breakfasts, lunches, snacks and even suppers are served across the USA, not just in a few foodie enclaves like Portland (OR) and Berkeley (CA), but in a wide range of school nutrition programs with a real commitment to good food for hungry students.

If I could do some culinary time travel and take Julia to lunch, as Bob Spitz was lucky enough to do in Dearie, here are six school cafeteria hot spots we would hit in the Western states. These schools vary widely in location, demographics and staff training, but all have one thing in common: They are among the growing trend of districts dedicated to serving made-from-scratch food, supporting local farmers and ranchers, and teaching children how good food tastes.

Image

Lake Stevens, Washington, Mollie Langum, Nutrition Supervisor

Mollie and her staff are true farm-to-table champions, as showcased in their “I Made A Rainbow at the Salad Bar” event. Washington-grown produce is not just for special occasions though; it’s an every day item in Lake Stevens cafeterias (just east of the metro Seattle area). With the right kind of “peer pressure,” students help promote produce, with giant strawberry costumes and as 5th grade fruit/veggie ambassadors.

ImageBethel, Oregon, Jennie Kolpak, RD, Nutrition Supervisor

Down I 5, in Eugene, Oregon, Jennie has developed a very impressive Harvest-of-the-Month program. Willamette Valley apples, pears, melons, carrots, bok choy and more show up on Bethel menus. This made-to-order Willamette High School panini with balsamic marinated veggies is just one delicious example. This year, they are going “hyper-local” with a new commercial size greenhouse on school grounds.

ImageSolvang, California, Chef Bethany Markee, Viking Café

Trading fine dining for a cafeteria, Bethany leads a Central California school food revolution – as this Honey Roasted Organic Fennel for the salad bar clearly shows. Thanks to a partnership with Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue, the Viking Café is able to regularly serve fresh, organic produce and thanks to a new school herb garden, the seasonings will soon be very local as well.

ImageChandler, Arizona, Catherine Giza, Director and Wes Delbridge, RD, Supervisor

I bet Julia would appreciate the high-tech side of this large multi-cultural district with its trend-setting iPhone app. And, I know that she would be equally impressed with their personal touch on the 250 hand-tossed pizzas with whole grain, made-from-scratch dough and homemade marinara sauce!

ImageProvo, Utah, Jenilee McComb, Director and Colleen Dietz, Assistant

Breakfast or lunch, Provo’s cafeterias serve freshly prepared, locally sourced meals to the lucky students in this mid-size district just south of Salt Lake City. The school nutrition professionals in each school take justifiable pride in their award-winning program and the Facebook page proudly lists the farms and farmers who grow food for their kitchen. Provo students know where their food comes from!

ImageEnnis, Montana, Tammy Wham, Director and Natasha Hegmann, FoodCorps

It might take us a bit longer to get to Ennis, a southwestern Montana community of less than 1,000 with about 400 students K-12. However, I can guarantee that it would be worth the drive! Tammy and her cooks make nearly everything from scratch and thanks to Montana FoodCorps they now have a greenhouse and school garden (with club and summer camp) for incredible, edible produce year-round!

School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Way Ahead on Whole Grains

According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 What’s Hot culinary forecast, Whole Grains in Kids Meals ranks number 10 in the Top Ten Trends for 2013 by American Culinary Federation. Child nutrition issues also hits the number 3 and 5 spots on the NRA list.

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

When it comes to whole grains, schools are really cooking on all burners and in ovens from coast-to-coast. From all the evidence I see, schools are way out in front of most restaurant meals when it comes to kid-appealing whole grains. While schools nutrition programs have been gradually adding more whole grains for years, the new USDA Meal Patterns mandated by the 2010 Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act for really accelerated the process, especially in the past two years. Just think of this – starting in July 2014, ALL grains served in school breakfast and lunch meals must be whole-grain rich.

An article in the May 2013 issue of the School Nutrition Association magazine highlights that creative and delicious ways that school nutrition professionals have responded to the challenge of adding whole grains to children’s meals. Several of my favorite school nutrition heroes are featured, including Doris Demers, the director in Oyster River, New Hampshire.

SNA Magazine , May 2013

SNA Magazine , May 2013

My favorite example of Doris’s creativity with whole grains in this school lunch from January 2013. The Beef Stew (made with local grass-fed beef and local root vegetables) is served in a made-from-scratch mini-bread bowl. How cool is that!!

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

Oyster River, NH, Beef Stew, January 2013

I could go on-and-on-and-on with photos of whole grain pizza crusts, entrees served over brown rise and whole grain pasta, and salads made with quinoa, barley and other more “exotic” grains – so little space, so much whole grain goodness. However, it is also important to note that food manufacturers have also make a whole lot of changes to their school-focused products so that children are able to enjoy whole grains in foods they love, like waffles, sandwich buns, and pizza crust. Here are just two examples of the products that I saw while visiting Ohio schools last week.

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Mini-waffles served for Breakfast in the Classroom, Reynoldsburg, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

Beef Sliders served on whole grain buns from a local commercial bakery, Pinkerington, OH

I have to post one more example of whole grains from Douglas County School District in Colorado. Director Brent Craig and Chef Jason Morse are doing a great grain job, like this Roasted Veggie Pizza on a commercial whole grain crust with balsamic glaze. Like I said, schools a way out in front on this trend!!

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO

Whole Grain Pizza from Douglas County, CO

School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Florida Chefs Put on “The Ritz”

What’s up next on School Meals That Rock? Trends, trends and more trends! I recently gave presentations in Michigan and Rhode Island on trends in food and nutrition using School Nutrition as examples. Over the next two weeks (or so), we’re going to explore the trends and share photos of school examples. Hope you’ll check in regularly to find out what is rockin’ in school meals!

According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 What’s Hot culinary forecast, Healthful Kids Meals rank number 3 in the Top Ten Trends for 2013 by both American Culinary Federation chefs and fast food operators. Child nutrition also hits the number 5 and 10 spots on the NRA list.

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Thanks to a pilot Chefs Move to Schools program the Nassau County (FL) Schools are hitting multiple trends out of the park with help from Executive Chef Thomas Tolxdorf and his culinary team from The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island. More than 800 students from Nassau District Schools’ Fernandina Beach High School recently enjoyed a lunch that was healthful, included whole grains, and featured locally grown produce. Some lucky students even got in on the cooking action!

(Left to right) Thomas Tolxdorf, executive chef of The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island, Amari Forrest, Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) student, Allyn Graves, director of school food service of Nassau County School Board, Bishop Richards, FBHS student, Laura Perkins, FBHS student, Michael Gass, chef and culinary teacher at FBHS and Glenn Wright, chef at The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.

(Left to right) Thomas Tolxdorf, executive chef of The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island, Amari Forrest, Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) student, Allyn Graves, director of school food service of Nassau County School Board, Bishop Richards, FBHS student, Laura Perkins, FBHS student, Michael Gass, chef and culinary teacher at FBHS and Glenn Wright, chef at The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.

The menu included whole grain pasta with fresh tomato sauce with the option of Italian turkey sausage; a side of fresh spring vegetables tossed with olive oil and herbs, fresh green salad, homemade rolls and whole-wheat low-fat oatmeal cookies. Now, that’s a lunch I would gladly eat myself!

“We are excited about Executive Chef Tolxdorf and his team’s interest in partnering with
us and preparing such a meal for our students. We look forward to expanding this initiative into more schools next year and working directly with our food managers,” said Allyn Graves, director of school food services for Nassau District Schools. Nassau District Schools’ Food Service serves more than 1,600,000 meals and snacks each year – all meeting USDA’s strict nutritional requirements each year. Many meals include fresh produce from local farms in a 150 mile radius of the district. The department has received the prestigious Florida Healthy School District Silver level honor from the Coordinated School Health Partnership and is a cosponsor for Florida Action for Healthy Kids.

Nassau County (FL) Schools Feature Local Produce

Nassau County (FL) Schools feature local produce

Guest Chefs and Student prepare lunch

Guest Chefs and students prepare fresh lunch in Fernandina Beach High School

Delicious Celebrations of School Nutrition Success: Farm-2-School + National School Lunch Week

Schools are doing truly incredible things to serve local, fresh – and yes, organic – foods that kids love to eat. To see super salad bars, hyper-local apples (grown five miles from school!), and a lunch with Sautéd Cabbage that students devoured, please visit School Meals That Rock on Facebook. This gorgeous tray from the award-winning Portland (OR) Public Schools is just a tiny taste of the delicious school feast that you can see there. Everything on this tray in OREGON GROWN – and the pear is ORGANIC!! Please take a tour School Meals That Rock and see the amazing food that is loving prepared and served by America’s School Nutrition HEROES!!

Whole Wheat Pizza, cauliflower, organic pear and low-fat milk ALL from Oregon, served in Portland Public Schools to celebrate HealthierUS School Challenge Awards

Some Very Real Reasons Why Kids May Be Hungry at School – and What We Can Do About It: Part 2 of 3

As discussed in Part 1, there are several reasons why students may be hungry after lunch at school. First, skipping breakfast means that some students are over-hungry and hard to fill up at lunch. Secondly, the typical recess-after-lunch schedule often means that kids rush through their meal in order to get out of the cafeteria and play.

There are simple solutions to these issues: Offering breakfast at school and scheduling recess before lunch are two easy, proven ways to improve both nutrition and performance in the classroom. The third reason for hungry kids may take a bit more effort to solve, but we must take it seriously if we want students to be fit, healthy and ready to succeed.

Reason #3:  School cafeterias are often, loud, crowded and rushed.

SOLUTION: Comfortable cafeterias that are positive, pleasant places to eat

Too many cafeterias are run like juvenile detention facilities rather than welcoming cafes. Adults patrol the aisles telling children to be quiet and eat up quickly. The mentality is  “herd-‘em-in, herd-’em-out” – or “eat it and beat it” – not a productive way to optimize children’s nutrition, especially when expecting them to eat new foods. 

Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Fresh Fish Taco Tray

Child health experts agree that students need adequate lunchtimes to get the benefits of school meals. Middle school students in New Jersey and Minneapolis have recently made news by bringing attention to the simple facts: Kids need time to eat and to socialize with their friends. When they are rushed, they may throw away foods that take more time to eat, like whole fruits.

According to a 2004 National Food Service Management Institute publication, lunch  intake for elementary students was better when they had recess before lunch and a longer lunch period. When the lunch period time was 30 minutes versus 20 minutes, elementary students:

  • Eat 21 percent more food by weight.
  • Waste 40 percent less food by weight.
  • Consume 16 percent more calories.
  • Consume 56 percent more calcium.

In some cafeterias today, scchool nutrition directors report that children are still eating off their trays while being herded out of the cafeteria. Making school cafeterias positive places to enjoy meals and classrooms for smart eating is another key to reducing complaints about hungry children. Mealtime should be a:

  • Time to relax and socialize, while nourishing bodies and minds
  • Chance to fill nutrient gaps and refuel for afternoon classes
  • Learning lab for healthy eating habits and acceptable mealtime behaviors

Renaissance High School, Meridian, Idaho, Cafeteria

A calm, comfortable cafeteria does not happen by accident. Like any other important aspect of a successful school, it requires effective teamwork and communication among administrators, teachers, aides, food service, students, and parents. Montana Team Nutrition has information and materials for creating positive, pleasant mealtimes in schools and childcare, based on Ellyn Satter’s Division of responsibility in feeding.

The smartest schools have instituted programs that encourage students to try new foods and get more adults into cafeterias to help provide positive role models. Middle school students in Pawtucket (RI) now act as fruit and vegetable ambassadors and a long-running successful Food Coach Program in Hopkins (MA) trains parents and other adults to make a difference in the cafeteria.

James John Elementary, Portland Oregon, Teaches Cafeteria Manners

True School Nutrition HEROES: Excellence Beyond the Regulations

There’s been lots of talk recently about how The School Day Just Got Healthier with USDA’s Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs that went into effect on July 1, 2012. Media stories abound with a generally positive tone – although many reporters wonder if students will actually eat the healthier options. I wrote about the new guidelines right here on August 24 in USDA New-trition Guidelines for School Meals: Business as usual – and a whole new ballgame.

Fortunately for students, teachers, families, farmers and ranchers, some of the best news in school nutrition has nothing to do with the regulations! Incredibly positive things are happening in kitchens, cafeterias, and schoolyards from coast-to-coast – thanks to dedicated and visionary school nutrition heroes. Sometimes they make the headlines, but often as not, they labor quietly in their districts without attracting much fanfare or hoopla.
Here’s a taste of truly delicious news from four districts on the frontiers of school nutrition excellence. Literally spread from coast-to-coast, these districts are focused on serving the freshest, best tasting meals to students in the most positive, pleasant atmosphere possible. This is what we need — to get nutrient-rich food into kids; it is only nutrition WHEN they eat or drink it!

More school cafeteria makeovers

The typical noisy school cafeteria – with an “eat it and beat it” environment – is not conducive to trying new foods or enjoying a balanced meal. Cafeteria renovations, like those in Palm Beach County, Florida, often focus on creating a trendy café atmosphere. At McKay Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon – with support from anOregon Dairy Council Fuel Up To Play 60 grant, the school nutrition program went a step farther, making their cafeteria decorations match their nutrition marketing and education efforts, to help students “Eat a Rainbow.”

More school garden produce served in cafeterias

In some areas, school gardens are becoming almost the norm. New Jersey could be called the “School Garden State” with more than 242 schools growing vegetables and fruits for nutrition and/or education. Denver Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services, with support from urban agricultural groups, has taken school gardening to a whole new level. As recently announced on their Facebook page: “I am extremely proud to announce our 2012 Garden To Cafeteria schools! DPS Food and Nutrition Services will be purchasing produce from the 21 school gardens listed. Your students will then see that produce in their lunchroom salad bars! “ Now that is hyper-local!
 
More chefs in school kitchens

Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, Chefs Move to Schools, founded in May 2010, has meant a real upgrade in the culinary skills of school nutrition professionals. Chefs provide culinary boot camps for school cooks in several states and encourage “junior chefs” through many school assembly programs, like the one with Chef Virginia Willis in Marietta, Georgia. In Maplewood Richmond Heights School District (MO), Chef Robert Rusan has truly set a higher bar for school food. It’s hard to describe the comprehensiveness of the MRHS Healthy Foods program in a short paragraph. Just imagine a school nutrition program that makes its own fresh mozzarella cheese, builds an outdoor pizza oven, and harvests aqua-ponic lettuce.

More student involvement in school nutrition

While all the schools described so far involved students to some degree, Slater Jr. High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and Foodservice Director Solange Morrisette, have kicked it up a notch with their Fruit and Vegetable Ambassador program. According to the USDA blog post, “the students came up with several fun ways to get their peers excited about eating fruits and vegetables. These ideas included the fruit and veggie taste testing, a fruit and veggie eating contest, a cafeteria remodel, and creating rap songs about healthy eating.” In this photo, guest farmer Shelly Pezza taught the future ambassadors about the benefits of eating local produce – which will soon show up on their salad bars.
Dayle Hayes, MS, RD (Registered Dietitian), is Past-Chair of the School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She helps agencies and organizations create healthier school environments across the country. You can follow her onFacebook and Twitter, and read in-depth analysis of school issues on her blog School Meals That Rock.