Director: GC schools providing healthy lunches

Posted on: Tue, 08/31/2004 - 10:23pm
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Director: GC schools providing healthy lunches
Melissa St. Aude
Aug 30, 2004, 17:30
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Although a physicians' group earlier this month gave Albuquerque Public Schools' lunch menu a failing grade for nutrition, Gayle Reeves, Silver Schools' food services director, said meals served in area public schools are healthy and often exceed federal guidelines.
"We don't fry any foods," Reeves told the Daily Press. "And this year, we're trying a new program where students may have seconds on all fruits and vegetables. All meals that we serve at least meet minimum guidelines, and some days, we exceed them."
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine critiques meals from school districts across the nation on the basis of fat content, fresh fruits and vegetables, and vending machine options.
Albuquerque, which received an F, ranked lowest among the 11 school districts nationwide that were critiqued this year. The highest grade of a B went to schools in Fairfax, Va., according to The Associated Press.
Although the group promotes a vegetarian diet, it does not deduct points when a school offers meat.
Albuquerque scored 22 out of a possible 40 points for obesity and chronic-disease prevention. Points were lost for not offering foods that would allow students to obtain less than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fats, or less than 30 percent of their overall calories from fat, according to The Associated Press.
The School Nutrition Association says meals served through the National School Lunch Program are the "healthiest lunch option for America's schoolchildren."
"The school lunch report card by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine fails to recognize that going into the 2004-05 school year, children who eat National School Lunch Program meals consume more fruits, vegetables and whole grains than children who bring lunch from home or eat off campus.
"While vegetarian or vegan diets may be a healthy option for some students and adults, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans - on which the National School Lunch Program is based - also serve as foundation for a healthy lifestyle. (U.S. Department of Agriculture) nutrition guidelines do not require schools to offer vegetarian or vegan meals, but do require a balanced, nutritious lunch featuring a variety of foods, provided in age-appropriate serving sizes. The guidelines encourage a variety of foods, consumed in moderation, together with physical activity," SNA says.
Reeves said area school districts encourage students to eat a variety of foods and engage in physical activity.
"It's important for parents to understand that the schools are concerned with nutrition and physical activity," she said.
Earlier in the year, the school boards of Silver and Cobre accepted a proposal by a group of parents, educators and health professionals to create and implement a wellness policy.
The group, Fitness and Nutrition in Schools (of which Reeves and Cobre Food Services Director Daisy Lucero are members), recommends that schools support nutrition education and model healthy dietary practices by serving quality foods.
Albuquerque Public Schools lost points in the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine critique for not restricting vending machine usage by students.
Reeves said one goal of FANS is to ensure that vending machines in Cobre and Silver schools contain healthy food choices.
She added that the Silver Food Services Department does a number of things to encourage students to adopt a healthy relationship with food.
"Food Services now supplies the snacks for the After School Program in all Silver elementary schools," she said. "These snacks include things like fresh fruit, which we serve twice a week, and crackers, seeds and cheese."
[i]Silver Schools will sample a new peanut butter substitute - Sun Butter, made from sunflower seeds.
"Kids with peanut allergies are generally able to consume Sun Butter," she said. "I think this is something that we'll see more of."
The product is high in protein, she said.[/i]
Students at Cliff, Silver High and La Plata Middle School are offered salad as a lunchtime meal choice, according to Reeves.
"Each school does this differently," she said. "In some schools, the salads are prepared early in the day and sold on a first-come, first-served basis. At the high schools, students who wish to purchase a salad sign up for one, and they're made to order."
Over the past two years, she said, area schools have increased fruit and vegetable offerings.
"Salad consumption is still low," she said, "but it is offered."
She added that despite the addition of a milk vending machine in the Silver High School cafeteria, milk consumption also remains low.
"We've thought about moving the machine to the lobby, to encourage students to drink more milk," Reeves said.
Students in Sixth Street Elementary School and Cliff are offered free breakfast each day.
"We realize that students who eat a nutritious breakfast each morning do better in school," she said. "Offering free breakfast to these students is another of the things the school district does to help students begin each day healthy."
During the upcoming legislative session, legislators will vote on "Breakfast for all Children," a bill which requests funding to provide a nutritious morning meal to elementary students statewide.
Other school wellness legislation includes a bill to ban the sale of carbonated soft drinks to students in elementary, and middle or junior high schools, and an obesity prevention bill to provide grants for physical fitness programs.
The SNA says research demonstrates the nutritional quality of school lunches.
A 2001 study shows that during the 1998-99 school year, 91 percent of secondary schools and 85 percent of elementary schools nationwide served lunches that were consistent with dietary standards for fat and saturated fat.
Another study concluded that students who eat school lunches consumed twice as much fruit, and seven times the vegetable amounts as those who brought meals from home, the organization said.
"We do want to serve meals that are healthy and good for the students," Reeves said.
Lucero could not be reached by press time.

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