It Takes a Village


At the Black River Education Center, Food Service Director Bonnie Cooper embraced the proverb that ‘it takes a village’ to create long-term change. Cooper recruited students, teachers, staff, parents and community partners to create a school wellness committee. The 13-member committee worked throughout the year to develop health-enhancing guidelines and programs that would garner district-wide support.

Building a Culture of Health

To build a culture of health, the committee started with updating the district wellness policy. School wellness policies set the expectations for nutrition and activity opportunities offered within the school community. Policies are powerful tools – they can provide leverage for adding programs and improve coordination.

The final policy, approved by the school board in July 2016, included the following key elements:

  • School meal guidelines
  • Smarter Lunchroom strategies
  • Staff qualifications and professional development
  • Classroom celebration recommendations
  • Standards for competitive foods and beverages
  • Drinking water accessibility guidelines and promotion
  • Physical education requirements
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Maybe? and Love! ballot boxes nudge students to find a tasty vegetable.

Community Carnival of Wellness

With contributions from the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and coordination from the new wellness committee, a Get Moving Night was held in March 2016. The event featured some of the new menu items as well as community physical activity partners – 160 students, 80 parents and 25 school members attended the event. The event featured:

  • A 9-hole miniature golf course located in the music room.
  • An obstacle course placed inside the cafeteria and managed by staff from a local fitness center.
  • Shake It Up Fruit Smoothies made with applesauce, 100% pineapple or orange juice and fresh strawberry or vanilla yogurt.
  • A Vegetable Tasting Station featured fresh bell peppers, snap peas, zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli.

More than 220 samples of fresh vegetables were taste tested on the event night. Students voted on their favorites; bell peppers (n=29), broccoli (n=22), snap peas (n=20) and zucchini (n= 21) received a ton of “love it” votes.

Cooper said, “The purpose of the voting was to get students’ opinion in a relaxing, fun atmosphere. These votes helped us create a different variety of vegetables for our lunch menus.”

To promote the carnival event, the cafeteria offered breakfast smoothies every Tuesday in March. Smoothie Tuesday was so popular that it earned a permanent spot on the breakfast menu.

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Tri-color pepper cups grabbed student attention.

Parents, students, teachers and nutrition staff agreed – the event was a major success in raising awareness of fitness and improving the attitudes toward fruits and vegetables. People had fun, they learned something new and all activities improved student well being.

“I love these healthy choices for our children while they are at school and these options are so tasty!” remarked one parent during the event.

Ongoing Work

Building a culture of health is ongoing work. The Black River Wellness Team plans to keep up the momentum. Next year, they will work to broaden the scope of the wellness policy to include sleep recommendations.

Writing Contest Encourages Future Chefs


The fifth grade students at Diley Middle School wrote essays about their interest in cooking, and stated why they wanted to be chef for the day. Writers of the winning essays earned an opportunity to cook for their peers. The event drew close to 300 entries – and increased meal participation.

Chef for the Day

The Food Service Department staff created the writing contest as a way to further involve Pickerington students into school nutrition activities. Head cook Becky Loar created a videotaped message explaining the writing contest, and encouraged all students to submit an entry. The message played during the morning announcements and the response was tremendous. Excerpts from the winning entries are below:

Arlo exclaimed, “I come from a long line of amazing chefs!”

Ella described “the calming sense” she receives when cooking, and how much she enjoys the process as “sweet aromas are spreading happiness through you.”

Layla kept her reasoning simple and straight from the heart: “I love to cook and bake with my Mom, and I am very good in the kitchen.”

The three student winners helped Chef Pierre and the Diley kitchen staff cut, cook and plate toppings for a school-wide taste test event in April. “It was a fun day with lots of positive energy,” noted Judy Riley, Supervisor of Food Service. “Student sous chefs were thrilled to be part of the event and took an active role in encouraging their peers to try something new.”

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Heather Hedgepeth (Diley Principal), Judy Riley (Food Service Supervisor), Chef Pierre Wolf and Heather Loar (Diley Head Cook) prepare for the taste test event.

Taste Testing with the Student Chefs

All 580 Diley Middle School students received a sample of two different pizzas. The Chicken Poblano Mexican Pizza featured a soft pliable crust. Personalized toppings included fire-roasted Poblano peppers, refried beans, diced tomatoes, corn and black bean salsa and red onions. The Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza featured sun dried tomato sauce, fire-roasted garlic, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and sliced mushrooms. Students loved the ability to personalize their pizza with the various vegetable-based toppings.

  • 90% of the students who tried the pizza stated that they would buy it again.
  • Primo Gusto Pepperoni Pizza was the most popular topping, sampled by 70% of the students.

Chef for the Day increased meal participation at Diley Middle School by 100 meals, and the two vegetable-enhanced pizzas are now on the menu.

Smarter Lunchroom Strategies throughout the District

Chef for the Day was one part of Pickerington Local Schools year-long plan to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. At all the elementary and middle schools locations, staff added a variety of new items to the menu, placed fruit baskets in busy locations, moved salad bars to a more visible location and hung colorful posters in the dining area.  Highlights include:

  • Nacho munchables – a new vegetable and bean nacho entrée was added at four elementary and one middle school. The item is now a K-6 meat alternate.
  • Carrots and celery with hummus dip won a taste test and has been added to the weekly menu as a meat alternate.
  • Harmon Middle School added Salad Bar Wednesday and a Sub Bar Day to encourage vegetable purchases. The salad bar is rolled out to the cafeteria on Sub Bar Days to encourage veggie toppings to both sandwiches and salads. The Supervisor noted that vegetable waste is now minimized and students are adding extra vegetables to their subs. The sale of both salads and subs has increased.

Activities from this project were funded by a United States Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition Training Grant.

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Harmon Middle School kitchen staff added Sub Bar Day to the menu. Students can add a variety of vegetable toppings to their sandwich.

 

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