Q&A With School Nutrition Rockstars: Reducing Sodium in Georgia
This blog is the first in a series highlighting creative ways school nutrition personnel are serving healthier meals and snacks this #NationalNutritionMonth
Susan Stone, a registered dietitian and school nutrition coordinator for Newton County Schools in Georgia, has gotten creative to help find lower sodium alternatives for their school meal programs. Here’s what Susan shared with us on strategies that have helped her schools achieve success in the cafeteria to better prepare students for the classroom.
1. What was your biggest challenge in meeting the sodium and whole grain requirements? How did you overcome it?
Our district is getting creative with seasonings to meet our sodium challenges. In February, we piloted a flavor station at one of our middle schools with low-sodium and sodium-free condiments and seasonings. This allows students to customize their meals and add healthy seasonings as they wish.
2. What advice or tips do you have for other school nutrition leaders on meeting the sodium and whole grain requirements?
Do your homework and keep good notes on what has worked and what has not worked on your menus. Network with other school districts with a similar student population to determine what is successful for them. Follow other school districts on social media – you will get inspirational ideas!
3. What strategies have been successful to meet the whole grain and sodium requirements?
Formal taste testing with students has proven to be key – especially when comparing a new product to an old one or comparing two new products. This method is more helpful than simply trying one new product and asking students if they like it and therefore has given our district helpful data.
4. What strategies have you used to increase student acceptance with the lower sodium and whole grain options?
We are continuously evaluating our products for new and improved flavor profiles, as well as identifying training opportunities with our school nutrition staff on food preparation. You can buy great products, but it means nothing if the staff are not handling these items properly!
5. Why is it important for schools and districts to uphold strong nutrition standards for kids?
School Nutrition Programs have the ability to provide nutrition education for students at an age when they are impressionable, learning about food, and developing eating habits. This is why it is so important for us to uphold school nutrition guidelines.
6. What impact have healthier meals had on students?
The good news is that school administrators are realizing that a student’s academic performance is influenced by eating a healthy breakfast and lunch each day, before and during school. Healthy eating can lead to better focus and attention academically. Our district is experiencing a big push to expand grab-and-go breakfast, as well as breakfast in the classroom so that students can start off on the right foot each day.
Inspired by Susan’s successes? Check out Healthier Generation’s Smart Food Planner for more tips on serving flavorful, healthy meals that students will love.