As Child Nutrition Director for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, one of my top priorities is to improve the nutrition and health of our nation’s children. With the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, we have an opportunity to pass legislation that will combat childhood hunger and obesity among schoolchildren by providing schools with the tools and resources needed to help children develop healthier eating habits.
Last month, I celebrated National School Lunch Week in Turner, Maine at a special ceremony for the State’s first HealthierUS Challenge Schools. Turner Elementary, Turner Primary, Leeds Central and Greene Central join the ranks of an elite group recognized nationally for health, nutrition and fitness excellence. These trailblazers are setting the highest standards for creating and maintaining healthy school environments by promoting good nutrition and physical activity. They will serve as a model for schools throughout Maine. I traveled to each school after the official award ceremony to hand out the HealthierUS Silver banners. I had a chance to sit down and eat school lunch with the students. The four schools provide meals low in fat with plenty of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We ate whole grain pizza twists, fresh broccoli, peaches and low fat milk. The school food service staff work hard to make meals that are not only nutritious, but delicious. That’s a huge accomplishment! My hat is off to the food service staff! They take the time to get to know each child by name—which is no easy feat with hundreds coming through the lunch line each day. By forging that personal relationship with each child, they are willing to try new foods.
For its accomplishment, each Silver school receives $1,000, which already has been earmarked toward sourcing more locally grown and starting a school garden. This is what Farm to School and Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is all about.
The HealthierUS School Challenge is a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Schools participating in the Challenge voluntarily adopt USDA standards for food they serve at their schools, agree to provide nutrition education and provide opportunities for physical activity. Schools, let’s keep up the good work!