Healthy students are happy studentsThird-grader Maverick Buchin said it best when he stated, “I have to keep myself healthy. I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up.” Buchin is one of 450 students in the Barnum Elementary School eating healthier lunches during the school day than most of us remember from our own childhood school lunch experience. That is all thanks to the Barnum School District’s commitment to the health of their students and their decision to provide higher-grade options in the lunchroom, including fresh fruits and vegetables for free.
By: Janelle Verke , Pine Journal
Third-grader Maverick Buchin said it best when he stated, “I have to keep myself healthy. I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up.”
Buchin is one of 450 students in the Barnum Elementary School eating healthier lunches during the school day than most of us remember from our own childhood school lunch experience. That is all thanks to the Barnum School District’s commitment to the health of their students and their decision to provide higher-grade options in the lunchroom, including fresh fruits and vegetables for free.
“There were a number of things that took place leading us to this,” said Barnum Elementary School Principal Tom Cawcutt. “Last year our wellness committee – a group of board members, teachers, administrators and parents –
discussed looking at healthier options for the lunch program. The first step was to look at the Farm to School program, which brought fresh fruits and vegetables to our students.”
Cawcutt said they had several options when it came to their hot lunch program. Contracting with Upper Lakes Foods, they were able to look at a higher grade of food, which meant offering hot lunch options like whole-breast chicken fillets rather than the typical chicken nugget. Other great “real” food options are skin-on baked potatoes rather than French fries, whole fillet fish rather than fish sticks and whole wheat options for breads and other carbs rather than flour.
“What is really nice about this program is that anyone can be a part of it,” Cawcutt said.
The fresh fruit and vegetables, which are locally and regionally grown, are offered to all students, regardless of whether they bring a lunch from home or take part in the school’s hot lunch program.
“The kids are free to come and go from the fruit and veggie table to choose what they want,” he added. “We just tell them they can have as much as they’d like, but to only take as much as they can eat.”
Cawcutt said exposing the students to more “exotic” foods has been a goal. While the cut up eggplant on the
vegetable table didn’t go over well, the kitchen staff was able to use the eggplant in a pasta dish for the next day, and that did go over well with students. “Spinach is something the kitchen staff has to be creative with, but they do a great job,” Cawcutt said.
He would know. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding as the number of students participating in the program has grown quite a bit. Cawcutt said he doesn’t have definite numbers for lunch – although the line is always long these days. He said the number of students participating in the breakfast program has nearly tripled since last year.
“We learned that students didn’t really like the option of having cereal,” he said. “This year we are offering eggs, yogurt, granola and fruit. That has been a draw for students.”
One might expect the costs of this type of food program would discourage families from participating. However, Cawcutt said the district made the commitment to finance the program instead of shifting the higher cost of the food on to families.
“The cost of hot lunch hasn’t gone up beyond the average yearly increase,” he said. “The school board justifies the cost because they truly care about the health of our students. In the end, we are teaching our students healthy lifelong eating habits.”
Feedback from the parents has been positive and the students are also happy with the program.
“I play basketball, football, hockey, baseball and I wrestle, so I need to be healthy,” Buchin added. “The fruits and vegetables make you stronger and healthier. It’s pretty cool.”