Q&A With School Nutrition Rockstars: Increasing Whole Grains in Texas
This blog is the second in a series highlighting creative ways school nutrition personnel are serving healthier meals and snacks this #NationalNutritionMonth.
Rosy Woodrum, Child Nutrition Program Director for Mission Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, has used innovative strategies to successfully incorporate whole grains, and increase flavor in their school meal program. Here’s what Rosy shared with us on how her schools started spreading the word on the importance of healthy meals and began boosting nutrition to ensure students are ready to learn.
1. What was your biggest challenge in meeting the sodium and whole grain requirements? How did you overcome it?
Our district started introducing whole grain-rich bread and buns to the students before whole grains were required. The whole grain flour tortilla was more of a challenge for us; we found it goes over with the students better for breakfast than for lunch. Whole grain main entrees, such as the whole grain-rich pizza, spaghetti, burritos and tamales, were not as noticeable a change as some items, such as the whole grain-rich macaroni.
2. What advice or tips do you have for other school nutrition leaders on meeting the sodium and whole grain requirements?
Look for new food items to introduce to the menu. If students have not tasted those new food items before, they will not notice the salt reduction as much. USDA Foods has a pork roast that can be made into a tasty pulled pork sandwich or a pork carnitas taco. Adding flavor with cilantro, onion, diced tomato and lime to any taco makes the world of difference.
3. What strategies have been successful to meet the whole grain and sodium requirements?
We provide students and parents with as much nutrition information as possible. The nutrient analysis of our menus is posted on our website. Our website also has links to healthier recipes and snacks. The back of our printed menu always has a nutrition message to share with students and families as well.
4. What strategies have you used to increase student acceptance with the lower sodium and whole grain options?
We provide nutrition education training to elementary students and talk to older students at health fairs and at our yearly school district bash. We also provide handouts about the importance of whole grains and less sodium. We provide nutrition education to parents whenever we have the opportunity. Parents always have questions about certain foods on the menu, such as broccoli and spinach. The majority of these parents feel we are offering more nutritious and better meals on the menu. They agree that kids need to eat better and support us in doing so.
5. Why is it important for schools and districts to uphold strong nutrition standards for kids?
Our students are our future. They depend on us to teach them how to make wise choices, not just today, but every day and not only in nutrition but in everything they do in life. Students need to eat healthy meals every day both in school and at home if we expect them to excel in their education. I honestly believe the saying, “hungry children cannot learn”.
6. What impact have healthier meals had on students?
I truly believe that our students are doing better educationally, look healthier and are more active. This generation of students is more aware and conscientious about nutrition. They know more about nutrition than any other generation before because they have more information through technology available to them on demand. The challenge has not only been met by providing healthier meals, but also by providing more interactive physical education, classroom nutrition education, parental involvement and administrative support. All have played a big part in keeping our children healthier.
Inspired by Rosy’s successes? Check out Healthier Generation’s Smart Food Planner for more tips on serving flavorful, healthy meals that students will love.