Schools revamping meals and exercise programs
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 Corbett Since 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 FUDGE Teacher 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.