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School Nutrition, Part III: Challenges ahead for improving school lunches

Loudoun County High School cafeteria manager Debbie Turner shows off a yogurt box before lunch Oct. 15. Students are required to select at least one healthy item as part of their lunches, such as a fruit, vegetable or yogurt box. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny
Both the Real Food for Kids Movement in Loudoun and the Loudoun County Public Schools Food Services Department are dedicated to bettering nutrition in county schools.

However, both parties know they have a long road ahead.

They know it will be difficult to incorporate new healthier less appealing foods to children who have already established their food palettes.

“The changes they have already made and knowing the children don't event like them and aren't even trying them, we need to turn our attention to education for children and their families about healthy eating habits,” Jenny Hein said.

The issue has been problematic even for Fairfax County, which has been relatively successful at removing harmful food additives from their menus.

Beginning in 2012, Fairfax County started serving a healthier burger with less additives in it. A October 11 article in the Fairfax County Times noted the county had to go back to the older burgers due to the kids not eating them.

“Most of the drop in participation right now, we contribute to the fact they have to take either a half a cup of fruit or vegetable with their meal. We have a lot of students that will not do that,” Mary Kroll, menu planner for LCPS said.

In an effort to better understand students likes and dislikes when it comes to food, LCPS will often hold a survey of current food. According to Kroll, the last survey they had done was approximately four years ago.

Food Services staff has indicated they would be interested in trying another survey as well as taste testing.

Hein knows through her experiences as a health coach that getting kids to try new things is no easy task.

She acknowledged that kids -- and some parents -- don't understand how food is made in this country and the amount of additives put into these processed foods.

“Another goal of ours is to implement school gardens at every school. We need to get the word out to the PTOs to realize the benefits of having a school garden,” Hein said. “I think each school could work with local businesses and their PTOs to make that a reality. If we have the school gardens the real benefit will be when the children can eat the food grown in the school gardens.”

Hein knows they need to figure out how to get foods from the garden into the cafeterias so children can sample it.

Working with state legislators to find out how purchasing local produce from Loudoun farmers can be done.

“My next step is to reach out to Tag Greason to try and figure out how we get this thing going,” Hein said. “To me it is a no-brainer because purchasing from the county farmers goes back into the county. Its a win win for kids and a win win for the farmers.”

Hein set up a Real Food for Kids in Loudoun Facebook group after the committee meeting Oct. 7. In the week since, the page has accumulated more than 600 likes among county parents.

“There are a lot of parents that care about this,” Hein said. “A lot of them have indicated they will be happy to volunteer to help the kids learn about nutrition in the schools.”

Loudoun County will continue offering healthier food options during school lunches.

“We want to eliminate artificial ingredients in foods including snacks and beverages. We also will continue to promote healthier eating habits by offering a variety of whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables each day,” Kroll said. “We are investigating healthier products and ensuring food quality, safety and appeal.”


Isn’t all the food served in our schools either frozen or canned (other than the fresh fruit) and only warmed? From what I understand, there are no longer true ‘cooks’ in the schools and they don’t even have proper cooking facilities. They only open prepared food and serve it, right?

@LeesburgGal, did you read the second part of this story? Where they mentioned fresh fruits and vegetables and the guy in the picture is opening a big can of green beans.
On the flip side, how about more exercise???

How about Tag writing another bill regarding grading kids in school based on how fit they are…..

Leesburg Gal, I did send healthy lunches with my child but look at the bigger picture - the schools are mandating what your children eat - I am glad they have healthy choices but how many of those kids that are being made to take that healthy choice and then dont eat it, waste.  Next the gvt will tell you YOU MUST HAVE INSURANCE AND PAY OR BE PENALIZED, oh yeah that just happened.  Where is the democracy - whats next telling families how to raise their children, how to discipline I could go on but you get the picture

Unknown: How can you possibly find anything negative here?  This is a win-win for everyone.  No one “has” to do anything.  They are simply offering healthier meals.  You are free to send crappy food with your kid to school.

Whats next - telling our kids how to brush their teeth, dress, speak - so glad my child is out of school.  If you as a parent think this is ok thats sad.  If you integrate good habits in your family life then school has no business telling your child how or what to eat.!  Its nice they are getting healthier options but dont tell my child he HAS to choose somethign off the healthy side.

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