By Michelle G. Lyerly
Last year, Kannapolis City Schools, under the watchful eye of Director of Child Nutrition Anne R. Treanor took all the junk food out of the schools with the intention of promoting healthy lifestyle choices among the students and combating emerging trends of childhood obesity.
The goals of this program comply with a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program, which some school systems are experimenting with. The new nutrition requirements should apply to all schools in 2007-2008.
“North Carolina has been a leader in making this happen first,” Treanor said. “We don’t have to wait until 2008.”
Kannapolis Intermediate School has been at the forefront of these changes.
“We’re ahead of the game,” Kannapolis Intermediate School Child Nutrition Manager Rose Ray said. “We’ve slowly done it. It will come as a big shock to other schools. The students were upset when it happened, but they’ve adjusted really well.”
The first order of business was eliminating the deep fryer.
“Excellent soup,” said sixth grade social studies teacher Ryan Graham. “No more French fries.”
Graham added that the latter has been the biggest complaint among students, who now have the option of baked potato wedges.
The Intermediate School cafeteria staff also have added fresh fruits and vegetables and juices.
Rather than 2 percent milk, students have the option of 1 percent, skim or reduced-sugar milk in various flavors, including vanilla, strawberry and chocolate.
“We love feeding our children healthy food,” Ray said. “That way we know they’re getting a good nutritious meal for that day.”
Ray could see children putting on weight between sixth and eighth grades when she worked at the old middle school.
“Now, they gain very little weight,” she said.
The biggest treat for students at Kannapolis Intermediate School has been the addition of a salad bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Fifth-grader Hannah Harrington said the salad bars distinguish Kannapolis Intermediate School from the elementary schools.
“I eat most of my stuff all the time,” added Harrington, who for the most part, enjoys the school lunches. “The lunch ladies are nice.”
Fifth-grader Erick Macedo, whose lunch included pizza, salad, an apple and milk, said he has been able to concentrate better in class due to the changes in diet.
Sixth-grader Shane McMannus, among many other students, spoke highly of the pizza, which is made with low-fat cheese.
However, not all the students are optimistic about the new school lunches.
“They’re disgusting!” exclaimed sixth-grader Margaret Streble, who brings her own lunches.
“There’s no seasoning,” added sixth-grader Bonita Thompson.
Some students, such as Harrington and fifth-grader Ben Johnson, express concern that the lunches are not healthy enough.
“Sometimes I don’t eat my food,” Harrington said. “It’s not good for you.”
“They are not where they need to be,” added future presidential hopeful Johnson. “They need to have good healthy stuff to keep the body fit. When you’re all grown up, you’re not as healthy, not as fit as you should be. You will not be able to do as many things as you should.”
He was eating an apple.
What these health-conscious students don’t realize, according to veteran cafeteria server Shirley Martin, is some of the foods that look fatty, such as chicken nuggets and pizza, are actually made with healthy ingredients.
“They think they’re getting fast food,” Martin said.
“The food’s still good for them. They just don’t realize it,” Ray added.
For Treanor, the goals of this program far exceed that of just minimal compliance with federal health standards. She wants to transform the cafeteria into one gigantic nutrition education classroom.
“We’re not instructors, but the person in the (cafeteria) line can be part of that education,” she said.
From the moment students enter the serving area, they are reminded, “Eat healthy. Follow the stars.”
The serving area at Kannapolis Intermediate School, as well as those in the dining hall, are lined with colorful posters advocating a healthy lifestyle.
“Find balance between food and physical activity ó dance, walk, swim, play. Try it, you’ll like it,” one poster says.
Another poster says, “Sense-sational Food. Taste it, see it, feel it, smell it.”
The poster reminds students: “You are what you eat.”
Also included among the posters in both the serving area and the dining hall are food pyramid charts from MyPyramid.gov, which explains the importance of maintaining a balanced diet.
In the dining area are milk ads from body-by-milk.com, which features pictures of rock stars, ballet dancers, skateboarders and other cultural icons.
“Stay active, eat right, drink milk. Hot news: Did you know milk could help you look good?” they say.
The posters are part of a district-wide $7,000 campaign launched by Kannapolis City Schools. Treanor said the money is well spent.
“Kids may not be aware of it, but the signs are reinforcing the message,” she said. “People and students eat with their eyes, and the place must reflect that so people will be excited about eating the food.”
“If we can get them to drink milk, we’re at least half way there,” Treanor said.
Students go through 700 cartons of reduced-sugar milk every day, Ray said.
No surprise that chocolate is the students’ favorite flavor.
A “huge data entry project” is now under way, Treanor said, that will enable parents to go online and research nutritional information related to school lunches.
“Education starts at home,” said Treanor, who is a registered dietician and nutritional therapist.
Ellen Boyd, director of community relations for the Kannapolis City Schools, praises Treanor’s work.
“She was way ahead of the game before the child obesity issues emerged,” Boyd said.
Boyd is also impressed with Treanor’s work with the Universal Breakfast program, a federally-funded program which “makes sure the kids get two meals a day instead of one,” Boyd explained.
Shirley Martin also applauds Treanor’s efforts.
“She does a very thorough job,” she said.
But for Treanor, there are more pressing issues at hand.
“We have to be at the forefront of good nutrition,” she said. “We have a research campus a mile down the road. People will be looking at us, asking what are they doing in their food program.
“My employees should know what the campus is all about. We’ve got a big year ahead of us.”
By Michelle G. Lyerly