Secretary Vilsack stopped in Knoxville, Iowa, at a Healthier US School Challenge Gold Award school on Monday of National School Lunch Week for a roundtable discussion with school administrators, local, state and federal nutrition program staff, teachers, parents and students representing three schools in the district about improving nutrition in schools and the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization efforts.
“The first thing President Obama said to me when he offered me the job as Secretary was that he expected me to make sure our children were getting nutritious food in school,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack heard from fifth grader Vicki Adrian that she’s interested in getting more whole grains into school meals, and high school students Jenna Harms and Kirk Gannon suggested that kids might balk at first about being offered healthier choices, but once they get used to the food, they’ll appreciate it.
Miss Iowa, Anne Michael Langguth, was at the roundtable because one of her projects this year during her reign is to highlight healthy lifestyles. She impressed upon the Secretary that helping students understand why the schools are choosing healthier foods will make the changes easier to accept and appreciate.
Principals from Knoxville’s West, Northstar and East Elementary schools gave examples of how they were improving nutrition and physical activity in classes and how they would like to do more. They remarked that several education efforts, such as the seatbelt campaign, had started with children and spread to adults, and the idea of making healthier food choices could follow that path. Child Nutrition Administrators from the school district, state and federal levels contributed ideas about direct certification, lunch price changes, universal free breakfasts, and cross-program eligibility to help remove participation barriers.
Two area chefs who have helped the Iowa Department of Education staff with Team Nutrition grant work were at the roundtable. Benjamin Whitmore and Ephraim Malag, President and Vice President of the Iowa chapter of the American Culinary Federation, suggested increased use of fresh produce from local farmers could help interest students in healthier meals. The chefs also offered a taste test for students and guests at lunchtime, featuring slices of an Apple Chicken Salad Wrap, starring Iowa apples, pumpkin seeds and edamame.
Students escorted their guests into the cafeteria after the roundtable for lunch, where they enjoyed baked chicken nuggets with whole grain coating, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, white cake with dried cherry sauce, and a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables at a “choice bar.”