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Springfield Schools Explore Pilot Nutrition Programs

Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama began her “Let’s Move” campaign highlighting childhood obesity and related chronic health conditions. With as many as 31 million children across the country receiving approximately 50 percent of their daily nutrition in school, the National School Lunch Program has become a part of the “Let’s Move” agenda. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talked with area school nutrition providers to see how Springfield stacks up.

Across the country, many public school districts rely upon food service providers for their food programs. Many school food providers, and dining services, have already begun to voluntarily join the mission of providing better nutrition. Aramark is one of these national food service providers. It has worked with Springfield Public Schools for about 20 years. Wanita Watts is a spokesperson for Aramark, and is the director of nutrition services for Springfield Public Schools.“Here locally in Springfield we’ve really always been ahead of the curve. That’s they way the district likes to work, and how we like to provide services for them, is to be ahead of the curve. So we actually implemented a wellness policy here in Springfield before it was mandated to have one. I believe that was back in 2006, and we did it in 2005,” said Watts.

Watts says that Springfield has received exemplary ratings in nutrition recommendations set forth by the Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines for children pre-K through 12th grade. She says these guidelines encompass many other factors, and the only area that did not receive an exemplary score involved recess.

“The recesses are kind of a big issue, especially in elementary. Studies have found that the kiddos need to have recess before lunch. And I know that is hard on the teachers and principals to find time to work that in. But they find that when students go to recess before lunch; they eat their lunch. If you do it afterward, what happens is the child is going to hurry up and not eat all they should, or consume it quickly so they can hurry up and go outside to play,” Watts said.

Watts says the Springfield Public School district is using grant money to try out four new pilot programs in various schools. Most of these programs are geared toward how students eat breakfast. Watts says studies show kids eat better in the family-like atmosphere of the classroom, as opposed to large lunch rooms. High school students are also being targeted for some of the breakfast pilot programs with options like breakfast after first period, or even so called “grab and go” choices.

“We’re looking for two more elementary schools to do a pilot universal free breakfast in the classroom. The difference is universal breakfast is everybody in the school eats free, regardless of their eligibility. And again, studies find that when you do this more kids start eating, so your feeding more kids in the district,” Watts said.

Watts says that kids who have choices are also much more likely to eat. She says it is a mandate in the state of Missouri that high schools have so called “offer versus serve” meal options. That’s where kids have a choice of what to eat. Many middle and elementary schools are choosing to do this as well. “Offer versus serve means, for example, our elementary kiddos get a choice at least three entrees when they come up to the line. There is also a choice of at least two vegetables, at least two fruits, usually a bonus item like a salad, and then their milk. Studies have found that if you do offer versus serve, the child can select what they really will eat. If you just put something on a tray and put it out there, and that is the choice for the day…I know I was a picky eater,” explained Watts.

Watts says although the district was making changes before the nationwide push to improve school nutrition, it is always looking for ways to get kids to eat right, get moving and focus. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.

Click here to visit Springfield Public Schools nutrition service information

Click here to learn more about Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program