School Nutrition: Healthier School Lunches
The Healthiest Schools in America
Going for Gold
They’re Leaders of the Lunchroom
They Make Healthy Eating Fun
They Go Local to Get Healthy
They Put Kids in Control
They’re Small but Mighty
They’re Leaders of the Lunchroom
Image: Lamar County Child Nutrition Department
Lamar County School District, Mississippi
One of the driving forces behind the Purvis, MS, school district’s achievement was proving that labels can be misleading. “Most of us in the state were sick of being called the ‘lowest this’ and the ‘fattest that’,” says Becke Bounds, the district’s director of child nutrition, coordinated health, and school nurses, referencing Mississippi’s title of “fattest state” for its sixth consecutive year.
With Bounds’ guidance, small changes to the district’s cafeteria menus have made a big splash. To date, 11 out of 15 schools in the Lamar County School District (LCSD), in which 80% of the district’s 9,200 students receive free or reduced-priced lunches, have been awarded HUSSC grants, five schools receiving Gold awards and six schools receiving Gold Awards of Distinction. In fact, Purvis High School was the first high school in the nation to receive the HUSSC Gold Award of Distinction. “What we have done now is set a precedent, so we can’t back down,” says Bounds.
A Strong Foundation
The food served in Lamar County cafeterias didn’t require a nutritional overhaul; Bounds made minor adjustments to menus in order to ensure that schools met HUSSC requirements for dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. “In our district, we’ve always tried to serve high-quality meals that are above state and national standards,” she says.
Today, salads are made with spring mix and chopped romaine—versus less nutrient-dense iceberg lettuce—and topped with homemade whole grain croutons. Students pick from among three vegetables and three or four fruits each day. Fruit salad is a favorite in many lunchrooms. Salt is slowly being reduced in many dishes. “We looked at every recipe and reduced sodium content by 10% and came up with unique blends of herbs and seasonings, like Butter Buds and Mrs. Dash, to make up for that loss,” says Bounds. (Related: Strip salt from the dinner table with this collection of 200 family-friendly, low-sodium recipes) Another improvement: Fryers have been removed from kitchens and replaced with combination ovens, which are equipped for convection, steam, and combination cooking. When students walk into the lunchroom, they note that the cafeteria smells like food—not a fast-food chain, says Bounds.
Happy parents and satisfied students were just the beginning of the positive feedback that LCSD received after improving child nutrition and opportunities for physical activity. On television and in local newspapers, where childhood obesity and kids’ unhealthy eating habits are popular topics, LCSD schools were portrayed in a positive light. The district was even honored by the Mississippi state legislature, the state’s department of education, and First Lady Michelle Obama after receiving its HUSSC awards. The district has been awarded a total of $72,000 in grant money from the state of Mississippi and the USDA, which it plans to use for equipment upgrades.
“We are part of the fix, not the problem,” says Bounds, who has worked as the district’s child nutrition director for 25 years. “We have a captive audience,” she says, explaining that many students spend up to 10 hours at school, where they consume both breakfast and lunch—and the majority of their daily calories.