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Food Service Directors Rely on Student Input for Success

In honor of School Nutrition Month we thought we would check in with some school food service professionals, actively engaged in creating a healthier environment for students by working closely with their customers- the students themselves.

NORWOOD CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT | NORWOOD, OHIO Less than a year into his new role as Food Service Director for the Norwood City School District, Roger Kipp has been learning the art of juggling, working to comply with various new pieces of legislation while starting new programs and menus in his schools. Kipp said he appreciates the work of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program in supporting the wellness councils and providing plenty of materials so he doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

Kipp has adopted the Alliance’s Guidelines on Competitive Foods and Beverages and school meals and has spent the last six months undergoing a major food overhaul in his schools. First on his list was eliminating the “Snack Shack” from the high school. This was where students could go during the school day to purchase soda, candy, sweet tea and other snack foods. They removed all of the vending machines available to students. The student spirit store and planetarium store are now only allowed to sell food and beverages that meet the Alliance’s Guidelines.

As they added approved products, fruits and vegetables to the high school a la carte line, they began to remove items that did not meet the Guidelines. In order to smoothly roll out the changes, Kipp created a student culinary council, made up of 20 students from 7th-12th grade (the middle and high schools share a building). Kipp approached the administration and told them he wanted help selecting 20 students that were “leaders in their own peer groups. I didn’t want all honor roll students or all athletes, I wanted a diverse mix. I bring in vendors to talk to the students. I want them to understand why we use certain foods, what a commodity is, how we price food, etc. And I want them to know what career opportunities are out there in food service. We let them try new products and they survey them. Then the bell rings and they go back to their peer groups and help spread the excitement for the new food items.”

Kipp has rearranged the cafeteria, removing all vending machines and replacing them with a grab ‘n’ go area where students can choose from wraps, salads, fruit and yogurt parfaits and compliant beverages. Another area of the room now has a salad bar with a staff member supervising. Students can purchase items a la carte but they can also select items to make a reimbursable meal. Kipp explains that in addition to giving students more healthy options, they now have “multiple ways for kids to grab a lunch that qualifies for free and reduced lunch without making them stick out like a sore thumb.”

If students choose to visit the traditional hot meal line they know that Mondays will offer traditional, American fare, Tuesday is “Latin” day, Mediterranean foods are offered on Wednesdays, etc. Kipp explains that this allows him to be more creative and flexible when food prices fluctuate, or when vendors have foods they can offer him at a lower price, but provides plenty of variety. “Last year the students could buy French fries every day. Last semester I cut it to two days a week. After the winter break, I eliminated them. Now I offer fries once in a while on American Mondays and they get so excited since they don’t see them much, even though they are baked now.” Kipp reports, “I treat this place as if it was my very own restaurant. I just want to offer a clean, fun and festive place where kids want to eat and enjoy themselves.”

BLUFF PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL | HOOVER CITY, ALABAMA

When the wellness council at Bluff Park Elementary looked at what was missing from their school, it was the link between staff and students in creating a healthier environment. Since the school is a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, serving nutritious meals is a priority. Therefore, they decided that their goal was to bridge the gap by developing a student mentor program where the cafeteria manager would work with 5th grade students who would then help spread the message about the importance of healthy eating to the rest of the school.

Bridget Thomas, cafeteria manager, explains that the “5th graders are like the seniors of the school. They are the role models.” Thomas works closely with five students, one from each 5th grade class. They utilize a number of different methods to communicate to the rest of the school from sharing tips over the daily morning broadcast, to designing bulletin boards and promoting healthy food choices with poster campaigns. They write skits to perform for the school and to promote eating breakfast they made posters and stood in front of the carpool line to share the message with parents. The “Healthy Panthers” student group passes out stickers to kids who are making healthy food choices.

They bring forward ideas for the menu and Thomas either passes them on to the district food service staff or explains why something might not be a good choice. “We don’t want them to think we are just being mean and not letting them have something, I explain why something doesn’t meet the guidelines and then they can explain it to their peers.” Thomas said that they offer “thank you bites,” in the lunch line and tell students to continue to take a small bite of something to sample, as their taste buds will change over the years. The project has helped Thomas realize that, “Students have a lot to offer if we just take the time to listen and learn.”

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