School Food Is Way Ahead of Wall Street

Back to school, already. As an adult, it is hard to remember day one jitters, that giddy feeling kids get as they step foot on school grounds in their new skirts and jeans. How nice to have a fresh start each year.

This September is different.  Monday, September 29, the Dow dropped over 700 points, the largest one day dollar drop in history. With the economy wavering, how does one clamor back and focus? Dover Public School food must get better—luckily reform is already in progress.

Mark Covell, food service director is up to his earring in financial woes. The main dishwasher is threatening to retire (a mere $40,000 replacement cost); the district food delivery truck went in for repairs; the Point of Sales (POS) system is going on 10 years; and the obvious, food prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Besides monetary setbacks, kids are picky eaters and dining services must sell food to make money, to keep it all in motion.

The first Dining Facility Council meeting of the year took place September 25. After a quick open discussion of the June 11 meeting minutes, the group tackled the slated six most important recommendations of the 17 that will be given to the School Board on October 6. Here’s the meat of what was discussed in the order of the agenda:

1. Provide parents with a list of healthy snack options posted on the district Website. Mark is assigned this task and will get it done.

2. Menus on Edline (the district-wide computer program for parents, students and staff to stay abreast of the latest) are not readable, the font is too small. Menus are run in Foster’s Daily Democrat, but without nutritional information. Mark will contact district IT staff to figure out the kink. In the meantime he will post menus in Word or Adobe. Mark is also looking to purchase a menu builder that will calculate nutritional values to meet upcoming state and federal guidelines. He is researching federal recommendations for the purchase.

3. A taste testing schedule for all schools will be devised.  This is in the works for elementary, middle and high school with food items suitable for the age group. Tasting is already in progress. Local plums, peaches and nectarines, while in season, made it into the schools. Guess what?—they were gobbled up. Hooray for Mark, he purchased local fruit.

4. School newsletters to be used as a communiqué.  Hand in the air; I volunteered to write material for Mark in an effort to keep parents in the loop about school food and proper nutrition. Farm to school is also an area that parents need to hear more about.

5. Visual displays will be posted in common areas in all schools to promote healthy eating and exercise habits. Mark has the posters but not frames. Readers: if you have large (poster size) frames in good condition, a donation would be much appreciated.

6. Public Information forums are one of the many ways to reach parents and encourage better eating and exercise habits at home. What happens at home is a strong indicator of how children will perceive and accept food and exercise at school. Parents also need to acknowledge the importance of purchasing locally grown foods. Dover schools are part of the UNH Farm to School program. It was thought that Apple Harvest Day might be a good place for UNH Office of Sustainability to educate parents. This year, was too late in planning a booth, but printed information will be available.  

Another important item on the agenda but not part of the dining facilities annual report was the Produce for Kids (PFK) mini- grant, a PBS Kids partner for school-based healthy eating. School representatives at the meeting were encouraged to ask health teachers to participate. Further information about the classroom contest and deadline can be found at http://fconline.foundationcenter.org/pnd/15015006/produceforkids.

One last bit, Styrofoam trays are used in some cafeterias because the dishwashers are not utilized, again due to monetary reasons—cost of water, detergent, and staff. Mark shared that back in the day when he started his career at Dover, the students helped wash trays at the end of lunch. This is not the case anymore thanks to liability issues. Mark was encouraged to look into who is stating the liability; local or state regulations. In schools around the nation, kids are in the kitchen cooking—using knives, and pots and pans on hot burners. Let’s think outside of the lunch box. Laurie thoughtfully stated that $45,000 is spent in garbage removal. At a glance, the cost of using reusable trays or compostable paper could offset garbage. Mark needs to run the numbers and share with the council.

The next meeting is set for November 20 at 9:00am at Dover Middle School in the café.  Progress is made at every meeting. It’s inspiring to see change happening at a local level, despite bleak times. I encourage parents and the public to get involved.

***

A question for blog readers… what do you think is fair, fun, and healthful (even sustainable) for Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) to sell as school fundraisers? Some ideas to get the cogs turning: pencils, stickers, crayons, homemade jewelry, school supplies, knitted socks, raw veggie sticks or slices, fresh fruit, work certificates for yard work like raking leaves, etc.

Let us know if you have innovative ideas to share with school PTOs!

***

Reading assignment—from The New York Times:

Local Carrots with a Side of Red Tape

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/dining/17carr.html

6 Food Mistakes Parents Make

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/health/healthspecial2/15eat.html

***

A grant to consider if it fits district goals:

Healthy Sprouts Awards

The National Gardening Association administers the Healthy Sprouts Awards, sponsored by Gardener’s Supply Company. These awards support school and youth garden programs that teach about nutrition and the issue of hunger in the United States. To be eligible for the 2008 Healthy Sprouts Awards, your school or organization must plan to garden in 2009 with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18. The selection of winners is based on the demonstrated relationship between the garden program and nutrition and hunger issues in the United States. Winning programs receive seeds, curriculum, and gift certificates for purchase of gardening materials. Due date: October 15, 2008. For more info, see: http://www.kidsgardening.com/healthysprouts.asp

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7 Comments

  1. Posted October 5, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    “et us know if you have innovative ideas to share with school PTOs!”

    Well, I don’t know if this would work for this specific event, but I know of a program that it healthy, sustainable and profitable for schools…

    http://www.schoolhealthyvending.com/

  2. Posted October 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I love that you linked to the food mistakes article! I loved it too: http://www.beyondprenatals.com/2008/09/kitchen-lab-6-food-mistakes-turned.html

  3. MIchelle Moon
    Posted October 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that’s real progress! Congratulations on all these positive steps.

  4. Posted October 9, 2008 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    Given the ‘theme’ of this trail I thought you and your readers may be interested in a new blog we have built (sponsored by McCain Foods) that focuses on school food. The site also features a questionnaire that can be completed by parents.

    Obesity is endemic in the USA and yet, often, school food is part of the problem. The blog is

    only going to be up for a short while and it would be great if your readers could have a look and add some comments.

    The site is managed by me, Jeff Peel, and I’m an independent market researcher.

    Please have a look. We’re very keen to hear your comments. I’ll read every one personally.

    I’m sure you will agree that the foods that your children are fed in school will have an impact on their well-being. We’re really keen to hear your views.

    Jeff Peel
    Quadriga Consulting Ltd
    for http://mccainfoodsbetterforyou.com/

  5. Posted October 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Um – exactly *how* are McCain processed foods “better for you”? I am more than skeptical – this is ridiculous.

  6. Amy
    Posted October 9, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you SZ. McCain, this is not what we are looking for. Thanks anyway.

  7. Posted October 11, 2008 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    McCain provides a range of potato and sweet potato based foods for schools that are low in fat, have zero trans-fats and have reduced salt. In particular, the company’s oven baked ‘fries’ are a much healthier alternative to traditional fries and can play a part in a balanced school lunch.

    However, the blog is a place to hear more and discuss the issues with other parents.

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