Local officials: We’re ahead of ‘Food Revolution’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 3, 2010

Editor’s note: The three child nutrition coordinators in Covington County agreed to watch a new reality TV show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and to share their thoughts about the show and school lunches.

A new reality TV show is working to transform a Huntington, W.Va., school lunch program, which show host Jamie Oliver calls a problem throughout the country.

As part of the show, “ Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” Oliver is working to change the way food is prepared and the types of food children eat.

But local child nutrition directors said this week that Oliver is only reinforcing what local schools have been doing for several years.

“Jamie Oliver is actually reinforcing what Alabama schools implemented several years ago,” Covington County School child nutrition director Carrie Patterson said. “Our state requires that all schools have wellness policies, which restrict the serving and sale of foods with minimal nutritional value, provide nutrition education to all students, as well as required daily physical education.”

Opp City Schools child nutrition director Heather Short said the system is committed to providing school environments that promote and protect children’s health, well-being and ability to learn by supporting healthy eating and physical activity. This is a policy, Short said, the system implemented in 2006.

The purpose of Oliver’s show is to show the people of Huntington, W.Va., who have been deemed the most unhealthy city in America, how to eat properly.

Alabama has been criticized in recent years for its obesity rate, as well, but Patterson said the state recognized the problem.

“Alabama recognized the obesity dilemma in their state and was proactive in working on a solution,” she said. “Our cafeterias are monitored and audited to ensure nutritional integrity, which meet USDA School Meal Initiative for Healthy Children.”

Andalusia City Schools child nutrition director Stephanie Dillard said that under the national school lunch program, schools have rigorous guidelines to which they must adhere.

“All food served to our students complies with local, state and federal food health and safety regulations and guidelines,” Short said. “One of our many goals is to foster healthy eating habits in the lunchroom, as well as the promotion of healthy eating throughout the day for our children.”

During Oliver’s attempt to change the local school lunch program in West Virginia, he is met by USDA regulations, in which he is told he is required to serve two starches.

“School lunches must meet federal nutrition standards and include a choice of fruit, vegetable, dairy, grain and protein,” she said.

“In Andalusia City Schools, despite a limited budget, we are meeting all these requirements and going the extra mile to make school meals healthy for students by applying for the Healthier US Challenge and by being awarded the fruit and vegetable grant at AES through USDA.”

Patterson said the county schools have increased the number of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains they offer, as well as only offering 1 percent or less fat milk in the daily menus.

In addition, Patterson said Straughn Elementary School received a fresh fruit and vegetable grant this year.

“This program has allowed us to educate and expose students to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that they are not familiar with or many never experience,” she said. “The FFV grant funds allow students to be served fresh fruits and vegetables during the school day at a time other than meal times in the school at no cost to the child.”

Short said that OCS takes careful preparation to ensure fresh fruits and vegetables are provided daily as well as taking pride in the preparation and serving of healthy meals to the students.

“We take pride in our program and our continued success of feeding our children safe and nutritious meals every day,” she said.

In West Virginia, Oliver has confronted another issue with which child nutrition directors are familiar – providing quality, healthy meals within budget.

“As our school nutrition program works to offer students an even greater variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, we face tremendous financial challenges,” Dillard said.

“At AES, the switch to whole grain breads cost the child nutrition program nearly an additional $4,000. Next year we plan to implement the whole wheat breads system-wide and it will cost ACS approximately $11,500.”

Dillard said the federal government reimburses the schools $2.68 for free meals served through the school lunch program.

“We pay for salaries and all food costs with this $2.68,” she said. “The national average to produce a school lunch is $2.92. This is underfunded and puts an even greater strain on schools. As we seek new ways to enhance the nutrition of school meals, I am calling on Congress to increase the federal reimbursement rate for school meals during the child nutrition reauthorization this year.”

Dillard said she disagrees with Oliver on one point – his opposition to serving flavored milk.

“He basically compared flavored milk to be equally as bad for you as a soda in a CNN interview,” she said.

“According to USDA, 70 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys, ages 6-11, do not consume the recommended daily amount of calcium. Experts agree that to ensure the intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other nutrients important to growth and development, it is better for children and adolescents to drink flavored milk than to avoid milk altogether. Flavored milk delivers the same nutrient package as regular milk.”

Patterson said she agrees that educating the public about proper nutrition is a great idea, but said everyone must be realistic in knowing that a change in eating habits is not accomplished overnight.

“Our cafeterias are diligent in trying to serve safe and nutritious meals, but realize that some of Jamie’s ideas are unrealistic due to labor constraints,” she said.

“The show does make us aware of the enormous impact adults have on children and how important it is that we be positive role models and decision makers in their lives.”

The show airs Fridays at 8 p.m., on ABC.