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While the new Nutrition Standards for School Meals were making headlines in January, Partners in Washington had already been working for years to provide more healthy options for school food.
As Nutrition Services Director for the past 20 years for the Kennewick School District, Sam Shick is also a direct employee of Sodexo, Inc., a company that provides food and facilities management services across North America. He points out that the national school lunch standards went unchanged for 50 years. “Now, in the last 10 years, there have been two drastic overhauls,” he recalls. Shick describes a multi-year team effort that Sodexo has undertaken to meet the market’s demand for healthier food.
The motivation and energy for making school meals healthier has been a team effort, according to Shick. “No one person can take credit. There is the school cook preparing the meals and executing the plan, the Kennewick School District field supervisor who develops the menu, and the Sodexo district manager who helps with marketing and communication.” He emphasizes that everyone involved has to work on improving food that is being offered to children and doing so in a way that is appealing to children.
Two of Shick’s strategies are to avoid making changes overnight and to adapt traditional choices in ways that will continue to hold appeal for children. The district’s pizza now features a whole grain crust and low fat cheese, and the corn dog is a chicken hot dog dipped in whole grain batter. These items are now offered less frequently on the menu, and nothing is deep fried. Big changes have already been made in other school meal components. The district phased out whole milk years ago in favor of 1% and skim milk, and the chocolate milk is fat free. Each school has a salad bar that used to feature one type of lettuce and mostly canned fruit. In more recent years, the salad mix expanded to red cabbage, spinach, peppers, cucumbers and, most recently, legumes have been added as salad toppers. Seasonal fresh fruit offerings include apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, grapes and kiwi.
The Sodexo team works with the district to plan promotions such as Produce of the Month, Five for Life, Wellness Fairs, and an Exhibition Cooking Program in secondary schools – all of which are meant to familiarize students with new offerings. The cooking program involves students from the Tri Tech Skills Center culinary arts program as well as chefs around the region. Shick says, “When the students come into the cafeteria during the cooking program, they get to experience the aroma, sights and sounds of sautéing vegetables with fresh garlic in the pasta bar – and they see how easy these dishes are to make.”
Shick says that each of these indicators must have equal weight:
Featured: March 2012
City of Kennewick
Sam Shick, Nutrition Services Director for Kennewick Schools, 509-222-6910