Gone are the days of old in the school cafeteria. School lunch has a brand new look, and not to mention, a healthier attitude. Pop-Tarts are off the breakfast menu, fryers are extinct, and school children are eating local farm grown produce for lunch.
Together, the Oxford School District Food Services staff and the Good Food for Oxford Schools program have worked behind the scenes prior to this school year to offer nutritionally balanced and kid-approved meals in all school cafeterias to students, teachers and staff.
While October 14-18 marks National School Lunch Week, child nutrition staff make eating healthy fun for students while offering nutritional lunch options daily at every Oxford school. When a school student makes a healthy nutritional choice that alone is reason to celebrate during school lunch, according to school officials.
“That means we are doing our job,” said Richmond Smith, Food Services Director for the Oxford School District. “A child’s school nutrition program is an essential part of the education system. Bottom line: children who eat poorly and make poor nutritional choices are going to have difficulty learning.”
Short attention spans, lack of energy, and poor attendance are often seen in poorly nourished children. This fact coupled with a scary statistic – 37.3 percent of Mississippi elementary students are overweight/obese compared to the 17 percent national average – set the Oxford School District in motion to make necessary changes on school campuses during lunchtime.
“It’s important to cook more from scratch because it means we are serving less overly-processed foods,” says Smith. “We are switching to using more fresh product and foregoing a lot of the cans we used in the past. Fresh food has more nutrient-density, and less fat, sugar, and salt that comes with preserving/processing foods.
On the front line of positive nutritional change in Oxford schools is Good Food for Oxford Schools Director Sunny Young, who has been referred to as the “Fruit and Vegetable Lady” by some Oxford Elementary school students.
“The purpose of these changes is to provide healthy food that is simultaneously delicious,” says Young. “We want students to fill up on fresh produce so that their minds are prepared for learning the second half of the day. Many of our students receive a free meal from school. This meal should be our best effort: it should be balanced, filling, tasty and colorful. Our meals are slowly improving, and we look forward to receiving feedback from the school community in order to create lasting, healthy change.”
Changes apparent to the human eye in Oxford school cafeterias:
· 60 percent of all school menus are cooked from scratch, up from 40 percent last year, with local produce in the mix whenever possible
· Fresh salads offered daily to all middle and high school students, and at least once weekly to all elementary students
· Fresh fruit available daily to all school students
· Combi-ovens replace fryers at all schools, meaning foods are cooked in a healthy, delicious way
· School gardens and green houses popping up at local schools like Oxford Elementary and Oxford Middle School
· A new Harvest of the Month program in all schools, where produce grown by local farmers is introduced as part of the school meal once a month
· Oxford High School has a new Food Club for high school students who meet twice a month to cook, eat, and learn together
· Sustainability University, funded by Eating Good and Moving Like We Should housed in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, teaches good food lessons to Oxford Elementary students in addition to tending to school gardens and more.
While school officials know that many school students eat the most important meals of the day – breakfast and lunch – while at school, there are others who play an important role, too. Parents and families can get involved in their child’s daily eating choices at home or while at school eating lunch.
“Today’s school cafeterias provide much more variety and nutrition than lunch rooms of old,” adds Smith. “If you have not visited your child’s school cafeteria, you are welcome to come and eat lunch with your child. We’d love to have parents on our school campuses enjoying lunch with their child.”
For school menus, nutritional facts and other child nutrition information available from the Oxford School District, visit http://www.oxfordsd.org/page/86