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Taylorsville Journal

Silly is on the menu at Fremont Elementary

Jan 09, 2019 02:18PM ● By Jet Burnham

The kitchen staff at Fremont Elementary hosts “Star Wars” Day with an out-of-this-galaxy menu. (Amy Wilkins/Fremont Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

Elementary school students are required to take fruits and vegetables in the lunch line — but they don’t have to eat them, said Amy Wilkins. They often just throw them in the garbage or put them onto the “sharing table.” 

It’s often up to cafeteria workers such as Wilkins to encourage kids to actually eat them. As kitchen manager at Fremont Elementary in Taylorsville, she has discovered the recipe for encouraging healthy eating is to mix in fun.

“I find that when we do fun stuff, the kids are a lot more excited to try it,” said Wilkins.

Sometimes, kitchen staff members write positive messages on the peels of bananas or Clementine oranges with food-safe markers.

Students have responded to the fun messages on the fruit — smile, be happy, you are awesome, have a fantastic day — by eating more of them.

“I watched to see, and they actually ate more of them than putting them back on the sharing table,” Wilkins said. “They were actually eating them.”

Wilkins encourages students to give vegetables a try by presenting them in a visually appealing way. When she mixes broccoli with tomatoes and ranch flavoring, students are more likely to put it on their tray.

“That seems to go better because colors mixed together make it look prettier,” she said.

Wilkins also advertises healthy food visually by peppering the cafeteria with posters to familiarize students with and promote a fun connection to healthy food. For example, students waiting in the lunch line can contemplate, “How do you turn soup into gold?” (Answer: Add 24 carrots.)

Fun and silly labeling also wets the students’ appetites.

“I’ll name the food fun things to try to get them to try it,” said Wilkins. “They get pretty excited; they like to see the fun labels.”

Her students are more likely to give “awesome apricots,” “crisscross applesauce,” “have a grape day” or “lettuce do our best” a try.

At Fremont, the kitchen staff occasionally turns up the heat on creativity with a theme day, complete with special food and music. They are planning a super hero menu later this year. Last year, they served up a “Star Wars” Day. The out-of-this-galaxy menu included Darth Vader salad, Tie Fighter carrots, Jyn Erso BBQ sandwich and K-2SO nuggets.

“The ‘Star Wars’ day was a huge hit,” said Wilkins. “I had more kids eating school lunch that day than home lunch because they were excited for the ‘Star Wars’ theme.”

School menus are developed by Felipe Guerra, registered dietician for Granite School District, which provides nearly 65,000 meals — including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks — to students and staff each day. 

“All our programs encourage healthy eating by offering healthy items,” said Guerra. Menus are based on the guidelines and regulations established by the United States Department of Agriculture and the National School Lunch Program. Requirements dictate that meals use only whole grains and lean protein, and include at least a half cup fruit or veggies, and are reduced-sodium. Guerra also takes into consideration the amount of sugar, fiber and calories in a school meal.

One of the perks of his job is taste-testing the dishes.

“Everything we put out there we first make in the central kitchen, and until it meets certain standards, it’s not going to go out to schools,” he said.

Guerra’s favorite menu item is the newly updated chicken patty sandwich. The lightly breaded chicken is served on a whole grain bun. Guerra experimented with different brands until he found the bun with the best taste and texture. 

“Everything we have is whole grain, but the way you make it makes a lot of difference,” he said. “Also, the type of flour used will change the taste, the appearance and the texture.”

Even if kids aren’t picky eaters, Wilkins said they are often reluctant to try foods that look different from what they are used to.

The district regularly exposes students to variety of locally grown, in-season produce. This year, students have been introduced to fresh cantaloupe, strawberries and jicama at the Nutrition Station (formerly known as the salad bar). 

Many schools in the district also participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Through a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, schools purchase fresh fruits and veggies from local growers for students to sample during snack time. The program is a way to present students with foods they may never have had a chance to taste before.

“We try to get things that are not very common so the students can have a different experience,” said Guerra. “Students can get used to trying new foods, and it keeps them excited to eat healthy.”

Items this year have included exotic and tropical fruits such as mangoes, pineapple, rambutan, jicama and various types and colors of pears and apples.

Granite District’s Department of Nutrition is currently cooking up new ways to post future school lunch menus on an interactive app, making it more accessible, informative and adaptable to special dietary needs.

“Instead of having a paper menu on the fridge or crumpled in a backpack somewhere, it will all be interactive,” said Carla Dalton at Nutrition Services. “Students can get involved in their own nutrition and understand more how important it is to have a cup of vegetables and fruit. It makes it more appealing to the kids and more interactive and friendly.”

The district currently engages students in taking charge of their own healthy eating through education programs such as the presentation Colleen Norris, wellness specialist for the district, targets to fourth-graders. Students are encouraged to focus on eating a healthy diet, cut back on junk food and exercise at least one hour a day. The presentation includes visual demonstrations of the amount of sugar in and the actual portion size of common foods they eat.

Norris helps students think about how their choices today will impact their quality of life over time and how exercise impacts not only their overall health but their ability to learn as well.

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