Beverly Mazella fixes fresh salads for students at Hornsby Middle School in James City County. Some local schools are moving to more made-from-scratch meals because they are healthier.
Claudia Christner slides a quiche into the convection oven at Hornsby Middle School in James City. Cafeteria workers are preparing more foods from scratch in an effort to make the menu more healthy.
Photo (color) courtesy of Denise CorbettSince the start of the School Health Initiative Program a few years ago, many teachers in James City have students begin the day with a stretch. Organizers say stretching and physical activity help keep students energized and focused.
Staff photo (color) by JOE FUDGETeacher Darlette Ambrose leads her class in exercises as part of a program to help Newport News preschoolers stay active.
Summary: Local districts are combating obesity with healthier lunch menus and physical education classes that stress lifelong fitness
The words "school lunch" conjure up images of corn dogs, soggy french fries and mashed potatoes swimming in pools of brown gravy.
That's not what schools are serving up today, school officials said.
Menus now include pizza on a whole-grain crust, turkey hot dogs, black-bean burgers, marinated bean salads, Asian chicken salads and sweet potato fries."There's a lot of exciting changes from what your generation and my generation thinks of school lunch," said Pam Dannon, a registered dietitian with Williamsburg-James City County schools.
School divisions are overhauling school menus and beefing up physical education programs in an effort to curb the growing childhood obesity crisis.
NOT YOUR PARENTS' LUNCH
One morning last week, the smell of fresh-baked bread and sauteed onions filled the kitchen at Hornsby Middle School in James City County. The day's lunch menu included made-from-scratch wheat bread and quiche with cheese, onions, broccoli and cauliflower.
Some schools are making more food from scratch to make lunches healthier.
"I know what goes into my bread when I make it myself, and one thing that does not go into the bread is preservatives," said Julia Bryant, food service director for Hampton schools. "We're going back to the old-fashioned way again. Because in a lot of instances, the old-fashioned way is the healthy way."
Schools are also offering more fruit and vegetables, and some are working with local farmers to bring in fresh produce.
Many schools are offering brown rice and wheat and whole-grain bread and pastas, rather than white rice, breads and pastas. That includes whole-grain pizza crusts in Williambsburg-James City County schools. In York County, ham is out (too much sodium) and so is strawberry milk (too much sugar).
York added made-to-order deli items at middle schools this year.
Subway franchises are offered in Hampton high schools, and the school division introduced vegeterian items at all grade levels last year.
Hampton schools will offer free cups of water, and elementary schools will sell two - down from four or five - snacks, such as cookies and ice cream, Bryant said.
"They eat all the snacks and then they don't have room for all the healthy food that we have available for them," Bryant said.
By January, all York elementary schools will have "Cool Caf" installed. The Aramark program provides a free fruit and veggie bar all day for any student who wants a healthy snack.
School divisions have also overhauled gym classes in recent years, moving away from team sports to lifelong activities. That includes biking at in W-JCC middle and high schools. Schools also have offered kickboxing, pilates and yoga.
"Just trying to do things that kids might do forever," said Jeannie Trainum, W-JCC health and physical education curriculum coordinator. "Our goal is to help them find something they love."
W-JCC has installed "fitness labs" at its high schools and middle schools. The labs are small gyms, outfitted with treadmills, ellipticals and, in some cases, Dance Dance Revolution and Wii gaming systems.
"We're trying to set them up like a fitness center," Trainum said. "The goal of our program is lifetime fitness. If they do want to go to a gym or a fitness center, they're comfortable, so they don't not go because they don't know what to do."
Newport News offers electives such as dance, team sports and outdoor education, which includes camping and canoeing.
The division also supplies pedometers during PE so that kids will know how many steps they get, and they can replicate that at home, Conrad said.
Gym glass isn't the only time kids are moving. Schools are adding positions such as wellness integration specialists. W-JCC has two as part of the School Health Initiative Program, funded by about $3 million in grants from the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation over the past five years.
W-JCC's wellness integration specialists, who have come up with more than 600 lessons that elementary teachers can use to incorporate more physical activity into the classroom while teaching to Virginia Standards of Learning, said Denise Corbett, School Health Initiative Program coordinator.
W-JCC schools also offer "challenge clubs," which introduce students to different activities, such as tae kwon do and cooking, before or after school. Some elementary schools have started running clubs.
"The hardest level is middle school," Conrad said. "That's when they're making all their physical changes, and that's when we seem to lose them. One of our biggest challenges is to help middle students stay on track. They either gain weight or they lose interest in activity."
Newport News is looking to target them with after-school intramural programs, Conrad said. Archery clubs at some Newport News middle and high schools have been popular, he said.
This year, Newport News is introducing a new SPARK curriculum to preschoolers in its early childhood centers. The intent is to get kids moving and to instill in kids healthy attitudes about physical activity, said Chris McLaughlin, a Title I supervisor for the school division. Kids get two 30-minute physical education periods a day. Some of that time is spent teaching skills, such as how to throw.
"Physical education is like reading. You don't learn to read accidentally," McLaughlin said.
Until now, there was no funding for physical education for preschoolers, Conrad said.
"The sooner we can get kids active in schools, the better," Conrad said. "You catch them young, and you hope they understand."
Find more health news at facebook.com/dphealth, twitter.com/veronicachufo and dailypress.com/healthnotes
HEALTHIER SCHOOL LUNCHES
Schools and school food suppliers are finding ways to make popular menus healthier. Here are two examples:
Slice of pizza with whole grain crust, reduced-fat cheese and turkey-based pepperoni:
8g total fat
Chicken nuggets (serving size 5 nuggets, 86g) with whole-grain breading and baked in convection oven (not fried):
7g total fat
Source: Williamsburg-James County schools
HEALTH NEWS ONLINEGet information, answers and resources for your health at dailypress.com/health