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

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.


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.”


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.


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


Summer Meal Programs Fight Hunger with Nutritious Food and Innovation

By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Communications, Administration for Children and Families (HHS)

Blog Pic

Summer meals help close the nutrition gap children face when schools let out for summer – when children no longer receive school meals they relied on throughout the school year.

When I was young, summers seemed to last forever. Days were long and hot in rural South Texas.

One thing I looked forward to after riding my bicycle all over the neighborhood was a nice lunch prepared by my grandmother Angelita. Meals like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) or carne guisada(stewed meat) with a side of beans provided the energy I needed to keep up with an adventurous summer.

Good food not only helps your body climb hills when you’re a kid, but it helps your brain develop in order to learn new stuff.  For some children in our communities, though, not enough healthy food is available for them to enjoy and help them grow. Luckily, a very helpful program exists that communities can use to tackle this problem: USDA’s Summer Meal Programs.

Summer Meal Programs help close the nutrition gap children face when schools let out for summer — when children no longer receive school meals they relied on throughout the school year. USDA reports that 22 million children and teens receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program. But only about 1 in 5 of those (around 3.8 million) participate in summer meal programs.

USDA makes it easy for children, parents and community leaders to find the nearest summer meal site through its Summer Meal Site Finder. This free, web-based application features an easily-searchable map to help locate sites serving summer meals. The site locator is available in English and Spanish, and it includes a mobile version.

You can also call 1-866-348-6479 (English) or 1-877-842-6273 (Spanish) to find a site near you.  You can also text FOOD (for English) or COMIDA (for Spanish) to 877-877 to find a meal site near you during the summer.

I appreciate and support this program, especially because USDA is focused on increasing summer meal sites in rural and tribal areas where access is sometimes a problem. In the last four years, USDA has provided technical assistance to a select group of states each year to increase the participation of eligible children in the program. This year USDA is working closely with Delaware, Minnesota and Nebraska, as well as Tribal lands in the Southwest Region.

A combination of factors, including high rates of food insecurity, poverty rates, and recommendations from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Regional Offices and anti-hunger advocacy groups, led to the selection of these areas to receive technical assistance to address hunger and access issues. USDA is working to address capacity and interest in these areas to expand summer meal programs.

From forging innovative partnerships to creative problem-solving remedies, the folks at USDA are coming up with different ways to connect youth to healthy meals. From retrofitting buses to overcoming transportation issues, to tapping into community volunteerism to increase site access, to operating mobile sites in rural areas to close the gap between children and healthy meals, USDA is working collaboratively with states, sponsors and partners to close the summer meal gap.

Parents can trust that these summer meal sites will provide a nutritious meal in a community setting that will keep youth engaged. Make plans now to help your community connect with this valuable service. Let’s allow every child to experience summers they will never forget!

The original post, by Tony Craddock, Program Analyst, Food and Nutrition Services can be found on the USDA Blog Site.

Currently, there are over 700 sites in Ohio that offer Summer food service programs. All children, ages 1-18, are eligible to receive free meals during the summer months at participating program sites.

Click HERE for more information regarding the Ohio Summer Food Service Program and participating sites.


Go For The Bronze, Silver or Gold With Your Snacks

The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) recognizes schools that go above and beyond national standards to create a school environment that fosters healthy student choices. A critical component of the HUSSC award is applying the new Smart Snack criteria for all foods sold in schools.

What is a Smart Snack?

The “Smart Snacks in School” rule applies to any food item sold a la carte, in school stores or in vending machines. Updated nutrition standards put limitations on caloric value, as well as set specific nutrient requirements regarding fat, sugar and sodium. You can find the specific nutrient requirements in this USDA’s “All Foods Sold in Schools” Standards resource.


Smart Snacks are under 200 calories per serving.

HUSSC: Smart Snack Application Tips

Smart Snacks criteria are an important part of the HealthierUS School Challenge application. Criteria becomes stricter as the award levels increase.

Susan Patton, Ohio Team Nutrition Coordinator, has provided a few tips to reach HUSSC’s Bronze level of achievement:

  1. Document your Smart Snacks training session. Schools are required to offer annual training on Smart Snacks criteria to all individuals involved in the sale of foods to students on the school campus during the school day. Documenting the date, time and attendance of your session will aid in filling out the application.
  1. Avoid advertising food and beverages that do not meet the Smart Snack criteria. Signs and marketing materials promoting these foods should not be visible to students on the school campus during the school day. This restriction includes flyers on vending machines. A statement in your wellness policy would provide evidence that your school is following this criteria.
  1. Save product labels. If product labels are unavailable, use a Smart Snack calculator. The calculator will provide documentation of your snack compliance and should accompany your HUSSC application. You can find the Smart Snack Calculator below.

Is Your Snack Smart?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has come up with an easy way to find out! Simply enter the product information, answer a few questions and find out if your item meets the new USDA guidelines for a healthy smart snack. Click the image below to launch the Alliance Product Calculator.


Farm to School: An $800 Million Investment in Local Foods, Local Economies

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the major benefits we’re seeing in schools and districts that have established a farm to school program. Their efforts are giving students a deep understanding and appreciation for where their food comes from and drastically shifting kids’ opinions of fruits and veggies.

Farm to School

The final results of the USDA Farm to School Census 2015 shed light on another huge benefit of farm to school – we’re talking $789 million huge. That’s the total amount schools report investing in their communities in school year 2013 – 2014 by purchasing local food from farmers, ranchers, fisherman, food processors and manufacturers. This represents a 105 percent increase over school year 2011 – 2012, when the first USDA Farm to School Census was conducted. In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of districts engaged in farm to school report that they plan to purchase more local foods in the coming years.

These funds are a major boost to local communities, helping sustain local food systems by providing a consistent, reliable customer base. With farm to school, “you have a customer, an able buyer willing to pay fair market price and buy in bulk,” explained Chuck McCool of McCool Farms in Arkansas. As Chuck puts it, “Farm to school is the greatest thing that’s happened to vegetable farmers since… well since I can’t remember when! I can’t remember what would have been better than farm to school… It’s a win-win for everybody.”

But the benefits aren’t just limited to vegetable farmers; farm to school programs present economic opportunities for the whole agricultural industry. Fruits, vegetables and milk top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, but schools indicate that they’d like to also buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers in the future. And these types of programs aren’t only seen in states known for their agriculture like Iowa or Nebraska. The Census results show that farm to school programs are present in every state across the country, in schools large and small, rural and urban.

We’ve recognized a few of these programs on our Farm to School Census page, highlighting three programs per state that are beating their state’s average spending on local foods. But we know there are many more schools out there that are doing innovative work through their farm to school programs.  That’s why we’re inviting you to vote for the farm to school program that you think is ‘One in a Melon!’ Now through April 15 you can nominate a school that you believe has an exemplary farm to school program. So check out the extended results of the Farm to School Census and cast your vote today! Winners will be announced this May.

The original article be found on the USDA blog site, posted by:

Janna Raudenbush, Public Affairs Specialist, Food and Nutrition Service.


Ohio Farm to School Resources

Ohio’s Farm to School Program provides kids with fresh, local products, as well as advocates for local farming communities. Through the Farm to School Program, kids learn where food comes from and how food choices will affect their health, the environment and their community. Here are a variety of ways to incorporate farm to school into your cafeteria and classrooms:

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: Improving Nutritional Quality of Meals, Not Reducing Participation

The USDA recently released a statement from Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, in response to a new Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJF) study regarding the effects of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The study looked at the nutritional value of the foods students chose, as well as the number of kids who ate school meals before and after implementation of the new USDA guidelines.

Key findings:

  • Nutritional value of foods chosen by students increased by 29%.
  • Despite popular belief, the new guidelines DID NOT reduce school lunch participation rates.

Researchers suggest that by increasing variety, portion size and number of servings of fruits and vegetables, kids are able to select meals that are more nutritious!


“This study is the latest in a long list of evidence which shows that stronger school meal standards are leading to healthier habits in schools. Children are eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming more nutrients, making them better prepared to learn and succeed in the classroom. After decades of a growing obesity epidemic that harmed the health and future of our children and cost our country billions, we are starting to see progress in preventing this disease. Now is not the time to take a step backwards in our efforts to do what is right for our children’s health. I urge Congress to reauthorize the child nutrition programs as soon as possible and to maintain the high standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

For more information regarding the RWJF study, feel free to check out the research article provided by JAMA Pediatrics.

What’s Cooking? 5 Ways to Enjoy Apples!

Let’s be honest, an apple a day is boring. If you’re looking for a seasonal pick to spice up your cafeteria during the winter months, then it’s time to re-invent the apple! Use this time to emphasize diverse cooking techniques and introduce students to a variety of apple pairing combinations.

Apples Image - Blog

Here are a few ways to get students excited about apples!

  1. Bake ‘em. Apples can be the focus of an entrée or a dessert. Pair baked apples with pork for a tasty entrée, or with a grilled cheese sandwich for a crisp crunch. Also, who can resist a warm apple crisp?
  1. Create a specialty salad. Salads aren’t vegetable exclusive! Include sliced apples on the salad bar, or add them to a “grab-and-go” specialty salad. Students will love the “Spectacular Spinach Salad”  made with apples and raisins!
  1. Set up an apple dipping bar. Forget about bobbing for apples, it’s time to dunk them! Come up with a variety of dips to pair with sliced apples. For ideas, check out the following fruit dips provided by the USDA Mixing Bowl.
  1. Organize an apple taste test event. Offer a variety of cooked or raw apples for kids to try. Encourage participation and have the kids tell you what they think. For more resources on creating a taste test event, check out our Getting Started Guide and Taste Test Materials.
  1. On the go. Prompt students to grab a whole apple, or sliced apples, to enjoy during the lunch meal or as an afternoon snack.

Apples can be purchased year round and are a favorite fruit of many. Introducing and offering apples in a variety of ways allows kids to enjoy the fruit, while still taking a healthy bite!

For more information regarding apple facts, educational materials and bulk recipes, check out the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide.


Be sure to check back next week to find out the WINNER of our November basket challenge! We’ll be accepting entries until Friday, Dec. 4th, so if you missed out you still have some time.  Click HERE for more details!

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