Food for thought


[url=""][/url] By WHITNEY PRATHER Georgetown News-Graphic 8/22/06

Obesity among children now shares the limelight of the nationwide health craze. Toast is not buttered but sprayed with cholesterol-free substitute, and what was once mystery meat, is now chicken.

A concept that can either delight or send shivers down a student's back, school cafeteria food continues to be a work in progress.

Within the last 4-5years, there has been a national effort to improve the nutrition of food served daily in public schools, said Eleanor Hall, Scott County Schools' director of food services. Scott County has joined this effort by offering several healthy options to students.

"We offer whole wheat bread so that kids have a choice," Hall said. "We have wheat buns and rolls most of the time, and sometimes students have their choice of white."

A food innovation, or stroke of genius depending who is asked, white wheat bread seems to be more kid friendly.

"We are using some white wheat bread now, so kids don't know it's wheat," Hall said. "We have to disguise it."

A trend as a healthy substitute, pizza now has a wheat crust, as do the corn dogs the schools serve.

Other healthier products include the daily use of Buttermist, a butter derivative with no sodium, cholesterol, fat or calories. The butter-flavored spray is used regularly on toast, rolls and for pan spray, said Hall, adding that butter buds are used to flavor steamed vegetables.

A recent federal law no longer allows schools to carry whole milk but instead requires schools to offer 1-percent white, chocolate and strawberry milk, as well as skim.

"For years, we had whole milk, and you had to have under 1 percent of the student population taking it to get rid of it," Hall said. "We always had just over the percentage, then last year the law was passed that we couldn't offer whole milk anymore."

Unprocessed fruits and vegetables tend to be a popular item among students, as well, said Hall, explaining that the department of agriculture allows schools to take up to 20 percent of their commodities in fresh fruit and vegetables. Scott County participates, taking the "20 percent off the top" of the commodities they receive, Hall said.

Another growing concern among food service staff and parents surrounds the peanut allergy that appears to becoming ever more evident among students, Hall said.

The most serious example of a no-nut zone is at Northern Elementary. To a couple of students who attend, peanuts are fatal, Principal Judi Hunter said.

Upon entering Northern, parents, teachers and students are met with large signs prohibiting food containing nuts, nut oil, coconut, corn oil or anything with "nut byproducts" from being carried into the building.

Overall, Hunter said parents have been very receptive.

"Parents want to keep their own kids safe, so they'll do whatever it takes to keep another child safe," Hunter said.

While some schools require a search of lunches to ensure there are no potentially harmful nut products, Northern does not.

"A parent knows that when their kid goes through the line, it's safe. I trust our parents to do the right thing," Hunter said. "To have a little boy come to you and say, 'Thank you for the signs - now I feel safe,' that gives me goosebumps."

In light of the allergies that exist among some Scott County students, others are still able to enjoy peanut butter and peanut products at school.

"We still have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everywhere but Western and Northern (elementary schools) where there are students with serious allergies," Hall said. "Most of our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches come wrapped from Smuckers, and peanut butter cookies are bought to avoid contamination. We try to avoid contamination and be as careful as possible."

Further precautions come in the form of proper medical training, said Hall, who explained that anyone working in a cafeteria where a student with an allergy eats must be trained to use an EpiPen, an injection used to stop severe allergic reactions.

While some seem to believe childhood obesity can be attributed to food the schools have traditionally served, Hall said other components, including the students' habits at home and outside of school contribute more.

"(Obesity) is really other factors, but the move in nutrition has helped us get a hold on things we used to sell, like Gatorade, ice cream and Little Debbies," Hall said.

Regardless of who is responsible for growing obesity issues in children, Hall said, food services staff hope children learn good eating habits based on school food options.

"I hope it helps. Hopefully if they drink 1-percent milk here, they'll want it at home and the same with white and wheat bread and fresh fruit," she said, adding that the reigning favorite school food among students is surprisingly chicken.

"Oh, they eat a lot of chicken," Hall said. "There's no telling how many thousands of dollars is spent on chicken. It's a wonder the school system doesn't cluck."

On Aug 23, 2006


Overall, Hunter said parents have been very receptive.

"Parents want to keep their own kids safe, so they'll do whatever it takes to keep another child safe," Hunter said.

That is as it should be. But judging from past posts on these boards, it too seldom is.