Dover Wellness Committee Tackles Tough Decisions

So many questions were posed at the latest meeting. How best to calculate nutritional information for diabetic students? Does it make sense to raise the cost of school lunch to provide healthy, sustainable options? Where are the parents?This write-up is by Ashley Blake, UNH Nutritional Science graduate and volunteer.

The morning welcomed an eager and enthusiastic group in Dover for the bi-monthly Dover School District Dining Facilities Council meeting. The group met at 9:00 am on Thursday, March 26, 2009 at Horne Street Elementary School. 

Old matters were first on the agenda, starting with discussion around the Guiding Stars program. Concerns were expressed about cost of the program. The annual licensing fee is at about $1,000 per year per school. Mark Covell, School Lunch Program Director, pointed out that the cost of the program would be approximately a nickel increase per hot lunch in order to cover $1,000 per school. Mark would like to raise the cost of hot lunch by $.15 to cover improvements to the current system. When speaking in terms of cost efficiency, this program is well worth the money.  Efforts to apply for grants is still encouraged and appreciated. The ability to receive funds necessary is feasible. 

Questions were also raised about the desire for this program if Dover was already in accordance with national dietary guidelines. However, Dover has just begun the long process of reviewing food labels and progressing towards all that the program has to offer. In regards to how the star labels would be presented to the kids, determination of this has not yet been established. Though, the star labels may be displayed on the serving line.

Will there be a gap in education with the star ratings? This was a valid question brought to the group’s attention. Do the kids really know why they would be choosing a 3-star food over a 1-star food? The education component of the Guiding Stars program cannot be dropped. The schools must continue to educate their students on healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Guiding Stars also provides education as a part of the contract. Dover has also agreed that it will not serve foods without any star ratings. 

As far as parental response, it is difficult to predict. Will parents respond in a positive way to healthier meals for their children? The numbers of meals served cannot be predicted until the changes are made and undergo a trial period. Parents must also receive education regarding the meals being served in the schools, as consistency is important. 

Next, Amy Winans shared about the experience with her UNH Field Experience students in the taste-testing that occurred on March 12, 2009 at the Woodman Park Elementary School. She shared that the feedback from students, teachers, and the kitchen staff was all-around positive. Some attendees at the meeting hope to participate at the two taste-testings that will take place at Horne Street and Garrison Elementary in May.

In regards to micro grants or stimulus grant funds available for school lunch programs, the government passed a $100 million grant for food service equipment, which will be presented in micro grants. Mark hopes to qualify in some way.  However, the guidelines include that there must be 50% of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Out of 500 schools in New Hampshire only around 30 have this program. Dover has one school on the edge of being eligible. Mark put in for a grant for extra allocation for fruits and vegetables for snacks. This is separate from the afterschool snack program, which has so many restrictions. The snacks provided for afterschool cannot be eaten or served until after school hours. 

Concerns with middle schoolers’ snacking habits was brought to the group’s attention. Because the middle school age is a transition age for many adolescents, they are caught between independent and dependent. A lot of parents struggle with this transition and expect (rightfully so!) a certain level of responsibility for their children. As a result, many students forget their snacks and find themselves hungry during snack time. Although there is currently no money in the budget to help with snacks at the middle school level, coming up with grant money for snacks, educating parents, along with letters home to parents are reasonable interventions for this issue.

After old business was discussed, I, a UNH nutritional sciences graduate, gave a presentation on my findings with the nutrition labels of all of the foods served throughout the district. I flagged foods containing trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and indicated opportunities to incorporate more whole grains. I also expressed concern with high sodium content in some meats and canned vegetables.  The presentation was well-received and the next step is replacing the flagged foods with alternatives!

The district will be testing Yo Zone healthy vending in the high school. These vending machines contain organic and natural snacks, which are more expensive than the run of the mill candy bars. The current machines will be eliminated if the Yo Zone vending machines attract students. The big question is: will the students pay more? 

The next Dining Facilities Council meeting will be held on May 21 at Garrison Elementary.

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