When it comes to nutrition in schools, the Peninsula School District tries to be “stealthy healthy.” The phrase, coined by Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto, describes the district’s unusual approach to healthy eating.
“If we advertise that everything is whole grain, we’re using fresh fruits for this or local fruits for that, the kids run away from it — they don’t like it,” said Sid Taylor, the school district’s director of child nutrition. “So what we’ve been doing is, we just haven’t been emphasizing that or advertising that as much anymore. We’re sort of hiding it in the food so the kids don’t know it’s there.”
Taylor said a few examples of hidden nutrition the school has implemented are using beans in taco meat, using turkey instead of ground beef, and using whole grain pizza crust.
“The kids don’t even notice it, and it’s a healthier product,” Taylor said. “We found that, when we first put it out there, we were advertising it to the parents and telling everybody that we have all whole grain pizza crust now. The kids just didn’t want it. The minute we changed just the way we marketed it, the kids started eating it. To a kid, pizza is pizza. That was kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment.”
Taylor said one of the biggest challenges — and something the district is always looking to improve — is approaching nutrition from the student’s point of view.
“A lot of times, as adults, we look at our menu and think, what sounds good to an adult?” Taylor said. “Sometimes we have to remember that our customers are kids. So improving on that is finding ways of hopefully educating kids to make better, healthier choices, and crave that.”
In the wake of a renewed national focus on healthy living and nutrition, exemplified through federal legislation such as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the school district is continually striving to shift toward healthier options for kids. The act mandates specific changes for breakfast.
“On our menu offerings, we have to offer a minimum amount of whole grains,” Taylor said. “Then next year, there’s going to be a minimum amount of fruits or vegetables that have to be taken. This year, just the whole grains need to be offered. We have to offer a certain serving size of whole grains with each breakfast.”
The district already has required students to take a minimum serving of fruits and vegetables during lunch, a change Taylor said has been mostly successful.
Part of the challenge that faces healthy eating is balancing budgets. Organic and fresh foods often cost more, and the district has a bottom line to abide by.
“We do offer some organic foods on our salad bars,” Taylor said. “How we balance the cost with that is typically we look at it (the menu) over a month. There’s items that are more expensive some days, and there’s items that are less expensive, so it balances it throughout the month.”
Taylor said the district looks to buy local foods and purchases heaps of locally grown apples and potatoes, but it’s sometimes difficult when certain foods aren’t in season in the area.
“Naturally, buying local is not only better for the freshness and quality of the food, but it’s better financially,” Taylor said. “Fruits and vegetables, when we can get them locally, we don’t have to pay for all the transport, and the quality is better. The bad thing about it is, the growing season is in the summer, so that’s when most of the fresh vegetables, berries and things are in season. When we’re in school, it’s usually fall through spring, so just at the end of the spring, we start to see a lot of fresher local fruits and vegetables.
“Any time we can buy locally, closer to us here, the better it is,” he said.
Taylor encourages parents to go to www.psd401.net to find more information about the foods their kids are eating. The menus are posted under the central services tab, as well as links to other websites and pages that detail other information about the offerings.