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School Issues: Food & Fitness at Columbus City Schools

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: Food & Fitness at Columbus City Schools
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When it comes to school lunches, everyone is a critic.

They’re not organic enough.
They’re not artisanal enough.
They’re not healthy enough.
They’re not pretty enough.

At the end of the day, Columbus City Schools has to make sure that 50,000 kids have something to eat for lunch. The local students come from all corners of the planet, with native palettes that match. Some of them have allergies or religious rules that prohibit certain foods. Some of them come from dual-six-figure-income households. Some don’t have a place to call home at all.

Attending the district’s Nutrition and Fitness Committee meeting provides a doorway into what Columbus City Schools is doing to meet all these diverse needs. Right now, the district is ramping up to apply for recognition in the USDA’s Healthy US School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms. Based on the committee’s research, every school in the district has a good shot at earning a silver medal and and extra $1,000 to devote to health-promoting programs.

The criteria for earning the medal includes physical education, nutrition education, and smarter lunchroom techniques. As it turns out, those smarter lunchroom techniques have been game changers in the school lunch scene.

Using research from Cornell University, the district started looking at ways to help students who want to make healthy choices in the lunch line. Those measured include:

  • Presenting fruit in baskets
  • Offering two chances to pick fruit
  • Letting elementary students name the vegetable offerings (“baby suns” are on the menu at one school – that’s corn)
  • Displaying student artwork, including sculpture, of menu items
  • Using colorful serving utensils increases the probability of students choosing healthy options

The effort is supported by a twist on the same sorts of marketing used in groceries: a mix of attractive signage and convenience. The results? Based on tray waste audits, the team determined that salad bar selection increased in six out of ten schools assessed, and fruit selection increased in seven out of ten schools assessed.

While the district tries to offer variety in terms of fruits and vegetables, there is a particular holy grail that is a staple in lunch rooms: salad mix, carrot stix, apples and oranges. Those are the perennial favorites. The district is hoping to launch a program next year that features all-Ohio lunches on a regular basis, the trick will be making the connection with local producers who can handle the volume.

As for the fitness part of the committee, things are looking up at CCS. After years of being rated as a “low success” district in physical education, the district moved up into the moderate success zone in the 2015/16 Ohio Department of Education report.

To read more articles in our ongoing School Issues series, CLICK HERE.

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