Feeding Kids Right in Oklahoma City
Aside from home, kids spend most of their time at school where they consume up to 50 percent of their daily calories.
Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to encourage schools to serve nutritious foods and drinks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs and for food and drinks sold to students in snack bars, vending machines, and à la carte cafeteria lines. As a result, more schools across America now offer healthier snacks and beverages, contributing to students’ wellbeing and academic success.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has been working with schools to implement nutrition standards for school snacks and drinks since 2006, and we’ve found that thousands of schools, such as Oklahoma City Public Schools in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, are successfully implementing the standards.
Healthy changes that work
Deborah S. Taylor, associate director, School Nutrition Services, is new to Oklahoma City Public Schools, but she has worked in school foodservice in the state for the past 23 years. She’s already seen tremendous growth since she and Director Kevin Ponce joined the district in June 2014. “From the students and the cafeteria staff, we’re hearing: WOW the food we’re getting now tastes and looks a lot better!” said Taylor.
“From the students and the cafeteria staff, we’re hearing: WOW the food we’re getting now tastes and looks a lot better!”
- Deborah S. Taylor, Associate Director, School Nutrition Services
The district serves around 45,000 students daily from a variety of ethnic backgrounds including a large Native American population. Taylor’s staff incorporates foods from Asian, Mexican, Italian, and traditional Native American cultures into the menu to expose students to different flavor profiles. To encourage students to eat more legumes, Taylor found that mixing refried beans with salsa to make bean dip was a hit among students. “One of my goals is that when our kids leave us, they are adventurous eaters,” said Taylor. “We’re at school to learn and part of what we should learn is different ways of eating our food.”
By mixing fruits and vegetables into popular dishes, students are consuming healthier meals without sacrificing the flavors or foods that they enjoy. “I use tons of sweet potato and pumpkin in place of fat in baked goods,” said Taylor. Zucchini bread wins rave reviews at breakfast. “They know it’s made with zucchini, which is a vegetable. Because they like it, they might be more willing to eat zucchini when we serve it raw or in a pasta dish.”
Product manufacturers have been a tremendous help to the district in meeting nutrition standards for meals and snacks. “They are fantastic about showing products and getting feedback along the way,” said Taylor. “We have an excellent network of vendors, brokers, and salespeople—they do a great job communicating information about which products meet the standards.”
To ensure that students have access to the freshest foods at school, Taylor has been involved in Oklahoma’s farm-to-school program since its inception in 2002. She works directly with Oklahoma growers to plant the right amount of produce to meet each school’s needs. Watermelon—cubed, sliced, or scooped—is a popular treat for both students and staff.
Investments in nutrition expand beyond school walls
Taylor and Ponce’s efforts are supported by the city’s commitment to health. “Oklahoma City has lost over 1 million pounds. Part of the reason they hired me is so that schools can have the same focus on health and wellness as the rest of the city,” said Taylor.
The district even created a slogan to communicate what Oklahoma City Public Schools’ school nutrition program is all about: “We feed kids right at Oklahoma City Public Schools.” The slogan branches out to illustrate the variety of ways the district makes feeding kids healthy foods a priority.
Taylor elaborated, “We feed kids right by giving them a safe and pleasant environment to eat in. We feed kids right by offering fruits and vegetables every single day. We feed kids right by working with a chef to prepare foods in a more flavorful way. We feed kids right by working with three registered dietitians in our program. And we feed kids right by making sure the recipes and products we use are good for our kids’ health.”