By Kate Rogers, Special to the Independent
The national discussion about childhood obesity took a local turn last week during Coffee Break as the school district’s foodservice manager Debra Appel and local dietician Melanie Silverman described local nutritional practices in schools and common-sense guidelines.
Appel described the district’s ahead-of-the-curve practices, offering hormone-free milk in 1997, removing trans-fat in 2004, adding salad bars at three sites in 2005 and whole grains since 2008.
More recently, she said, fresh baked breads are offered from a local bakery, along with a menu that includes Moroccan chicken, homemade soups, whole grain pastas and tortillas. Corn dogs and hot dogs have been eliminated, and “Meatless Mondays” have begun. All milk now served is fat-free, and the chocolate version is no longer sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
The “Salad Bars 2 Schools” program has provided El Moro with a salad bar serving locally-grown organic fruits and vegetables. Thurston, the only site without an official salad bar, is serving organic fruits and vegetables daily and a permanent salad bar is in the planning stages. The “Farm to School” initiative, originally designed to help schools connect with local farms, is now providing LBUSD seasonal, sustainably grown local organic fruits and vegetables. Individuals from one local farm have offered to help TOW’s educational garden be retrofitted to provide produce for the schools. The “Chefs to Schools” program has local chefs providing staff with professional development, culinary techniques and recipes to create healthier school meals. Appel said school staff has trained with Chef Luigi in August and Chef John Merlino last December.
Finally, as part of a Department of Agriculture commodities program, the district earned $23,000 for using surplus supplies. This helped offset the foodservice program’s $100,000 deficit, caused in part by higher standards and lower use because of the recession. Currently, the district serves 700 lunches daily, about a 23 percent participation rate.
Silverstein described her “feeding philosophies.” The first is: Eat when hungry, stop when full. She cautioned people to become aware of “mindless munching” (like that in front of TV) which is not in response to hunger. In fact, anything which distracts one from the experience of the food should be avoided. She also encouraged keeping an open attitude towards a variety of foods. Allow your children to continue to try new things; never tell them that “they don’t like asparagus!”
Kids should come to the table for family meals. Again, while deceptively simple, this actually addresses many issues beyond simple nutrition. It reinforces manners, models good behavior and engenders respect for parents’ efforts to feed healthy, nutritious meals. Silverman asserts the family meal experience has been shown to improve cognitive development.
She provided a check-list of general nutritional advice: eat fruits and vegetables; fresh food is best; read labels to avoid dyes and high fructose corn-syrup; find fiber, look for greater than 3 grams per serving; think before you drink, children can get heart palpitations from energy drinks; limit added sugar, there are 7 tsp. sugar in a 12 oz. soda; watch artificial sweeteners; be careful with supplements, especially if your children are consuming “nutrition” bars.
Sports nutrition was of special interest to the audience. For active kids, Silverman emphasized the importance of a good breakfast. If your child isn’t hungry, start with warm water or decaf tea with milk. Even high-quality hot chocolate (with 2% milk) is an excellent start. Then kids can graduate to the smoothie, which incorporates a multitude of good ingredients. All meals and snacks should have carbohydrates, protein and fat. Hydration is really important. Between 10-16 oz. 1-2 hours before a workout, 4-8 oz. for every 10-20 minutes of exercise and 16 oz. water for each pound lost. She recommended a home-made sports drink as the commercial ones have artificial flavors, sweeteners and even caffeine ( ½ tsp honey, 1 c hot water, ½ lemon). Also, surprisingly, chocolate milk is recommended for electrolyte balance and muscle repair; it has the full-spectrum of carbs, protein and fat.
Body image among our children is also a topic of concern. Silverman cautioned parents to watch their own behavior related to food/body image issues. “Make your home a safe haven” from cultural standards of unrealistic thinness. Be aware of which magazines are around, what people in the family say about appearances, what is eaten, how exercise is incorporated into the family lifestyle.
A video of the presentation can be found at GoToCoffeeBreak.com. Questions for Melanie Silverman, RD, can be addressed to: [email protected] A copy her hand-out is on Coffee Break’s website.
Kate Rogers is a parent in the district.