|Loudoun County High School cafeteria worker Ricky Barton opens cans of green beans to prepare for lunch Oct. 15. Students are now required to choose a healthy option such as a fruit, vegetable or yogurt box as part of their lunch. A box of hummus with pita wedges and vegetables is a popular option. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
While childhood obesity has been on the rise everywhere, Loudoun County Public Schools Department of Food Services has worked to promote healthy eating by increasing fresh fruit and vegetable choices.
LCPS is working with food manufacturers to develop foods without artificial ingredients as well.
Director of Food and Nutrition Services for LCPS Jinny Demastes and her staff have identified several ingredients on their so-called “hitlist.”
That list includes artificial flavors, artificial colors and food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, potassium bromate, sodium benzoate and several more.
During a Health, Wellness, Safety and Transportation Committee meeting Oct. 7, Mary Kroll, menu planner for Loudoun County Public Schools presented some of the changes which have been made in food nutrition over the last several years.
The presentation focused on artificial ingredients and where the county's goals are in relation to those respective ingredients.
“We are offering an increasing amount of fresh fruits and vegetables through what we term as cold trays in our cafeterias everyday, which is a mixture of different fresh canned fruits and fresh vegetable side salad also offered to the students,” Kroll said. “We have worked with manufacturers on new foods that don't contain artificial ingredients. There are a lot of manufacturers just now getting on board because of the movement [parents] are now interested in.”
According to Kroll, since 2012, LCPS has decreased the amount of items available in schools with artificial ingredients by 40 percent. That statistic also includes snack items and beverages.
“Each year food is reviewed for their nutritional value and also see how they fit into our plan, removing items not acceptable,” Kroll said. “It is just a balancing act right now with a lot of vendors coming out with new products because they have to meet all the whole grain requirements.”
Kroll advised that during taste tests, whole grain items are not as widely accepted by students because they don't get them at home and don't care for the flavor at school.
As a result of these changes, LCPS has met all U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and menus have been certified by the USDA and Virginia Department of Education.
In fact, a couple of years ago LCPS earned Bronze Awards – from the HealthierUS School Challenge – at all their elementary schools.
“We are trying to continue to remove highly processed foods as well as foods containing additives, preservatives, dyes or flavor enhancers, but unfortunately we are out of school during the best growing seasons,” Kroll said. “We also continue to remove high fructose corn syrup and offer free cups of water or bottled water as mandated by law.”
Jenny Hein, who has begun the Real Food for Kids Movement in Loudoun was present at the committee meeting was pleased by the county's work so far.
“I am very encouraged by that presentation. We will follow along with them and help the county in any way we can as far as their discussions with manufacturers,” Hein said. “We want to have a great working relationship with the county and we were thrilled with what they have done to this point.”
Loudoun County High School has a sign in the cafeteria describing a five-star lunch, consisting of the food groups: dairy, protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It says three stars (including a fruit or vegetable) is a good meal, four is better and five is best. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny