Tag Archives: school cafeterias

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Growing Healthier Students through School Gardens

Image from MorgueFileOften the options offered for school lunch are either less than appetizing or not very healthy.  The alternative to these selections is to provide meals plentiful in fruits, vegetables and other healthy and creative items.  Most parents, school board members and others would be quick to choose the second option to make ensure school-age children are full of energy and to avoid looming issues like obesity.   However, it’s not always quite that easy.  Frequently, when schools switch over to these nutritious offerings, students end up tossing more than they eat.  There’s also the increased expense of providing fresh, unprocessed food.   What can be done to solve this dilemma?  Many, including First Lady Michelle Obama who is currently writing a book about her White House Kitchen Garden, believe gardens could be the answer.

You may be wondering, other than just providing vegetables, what is the point of having a school garden.   Many sources say that the biggest benefit is the connection between the food and what is actually happening in the garden.  According to Sallie Marston, professor in the School of Geography and Development and co-manager of the University of Arizona’s school garden program,  “These children are physically involved in the garden in ways that teach them all kinds of stuff about soil, water, the hydrological cycle, pest control, intermixing plant varieties – you name it.”

This type of opportunity also allows teachers, parents and volunteers to open up student’s eyes to what they are eating and gives an opening to educate them on new items, as simple as fresh spinach or different varieties of tomatoes.   Karol Fink a dietitian with the Alaska Department of Health told the Anchorage Daily News, “Because of economics, of family practices or culture, some students have just not been exposed to healthy foods. Trying food from an early age is key.”   Many times, this exposure becomes the responsibility of the school and school gardens provide a perfect chance for the healthy foods to become more commonplace.

By teaching lessons in the garden about what certain foods are, as well as giving the opportunity to take a taste test, students may just discover that what they’ve refused to try at lunch may just not be so bad after all.  In an article in the Pueblo Chieftain, it says “According to the California School Garden Network, studies have shown that “garden-based” nutrition education can significantly increase children’s consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables along with their understanding of food and its relationship to their health.”

This should solve the entire lunch conundrum.  These gardens provide students not only with education and an opportunity to expand their culinary horizons, but also with a great, extremely fresh source to supply their cafeterias.  But it’s not that simple.

One of the biggest issues facing school gardens is that many schools are not currently allowed to use the food grown in school gardens in their own cafeteria.  To combat this in Hawaii, Rep. Jessica Wooley (D, Laie-Kahaluu), has introduced House Bill 198.  This bill would allow school grown vegetation to be used in cafeterias if the garden is first inspected and certified by the Department of Agriculture.  However, this solution still poses an issue considering the amount of time the inspection and certification take and currently, the bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.  Similarly, in Chicago guidelines prevent school consumption of food from their gardens because they don’t currently use “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson, in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

While school gardens may not always work in all ways or solve all of the issues posed today in school nutrition, it is still important to remember that ideas like this can put school-aged children on the right track to leading a healthier lifestyle.  Each step, whether it’s getting students to try a new healthy food at lunch or cultivating a garden that could feed the entire school, is one in the right direction.  One great thought on this comes from Dexter Kishida, school food coordinator in Hawaii.  Kishida told the Honolulu Star Advertiser about their gardens, saying, “This is not about raising farmers. It’s about raising eaters who understand what it takes to get that (food) to the table.”

For more information on starting your own school garden, check out KidsGardending.org or talk to your local school board.

School Cafeterias during the Holidays

The holiday theme is a great one to put into a school cafeteria.  Anything new and intriguing in the lunchroom, like signage or different menu item, can really make a student’s day more exciting—even if it’s only 30 to 40 minutes of their day. Here is what a few schools are doing around the country during this holiday season.

Meek Schools: Double Springs, Alabama

Photo from Meek Schools Website

For the holiday, Meek Schools fix a traditional holiday meal and decorate their lunchroom for family members.  “We are a K-12 school with an enrollment of a little over 500,” Ann Harbison says.  “Kids enjoy the special meal and decorations.”  Harbison also adds the younger children especially love when family comes to their holiday meal to eat with them.

Photo Provided by Stacy Blanton

IUPUI: Indianapolis, Indiana

The holiday season for college students means finals!  At IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis), Stacy Blanton says the IUPUI Food Service (Chartwells) will provide coffee specials at any of their coffee locations on campus.  Specials will be available both in the morning for the early risers and in the evening for those staying up late studying.

Winston County High School: Double Springs, Alabama

Photo Provided By Debra Taylor

Debra Taylor of Winston County High School says their school has a Christmas bulletin board.  This year, every students name and grade is listed. “Simple but sweet,” she says. Similar to Meek Schools, Winston County High School has a special Christmas dinner.  This year, the menu will consist of chicken dressing, buffet ham, yam patty, green beans, cole slaw, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls and dessert.

Alachua County Public Schools: Gainesville, Florida

Public schools in Alachua County will have a traditional holiday dinner.  “Most also decorate the cafés to help welcome the students in everyday and create a festive holiday feel,” Pennie Spencer-Rodriguez says.  This year, sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn bread, muffins and fruit crisp is on the holiday menu.

Photo from Alachua County Food and Nutrition Services Website

These dinners (during the lunch time) have become very popular for parents and the community.  “You wouldn’t believe the parents and community members that take the time during their busy work day to be able to participate,” she says. “It’s a really busy but fun time for us.”

What is your school doing for the holidays? What’s on your menu?