New, healthier school menus proving popular

Students in the Renton School District may be eating healthier, according to the administration.

Kira Acker, district nutrition services and warehouse manager, reports that paid meals consumption is increasing in the high schools after a nutrition transformation in the district about four years ago. That change put digital menu boards in all the schools, healthier items on the menu and educational tools in place to teach proper nutrition.

“I think that we’ve changed,” said Acker. “We wanted to try and upgrade and update the look, kind of create more of a feel of what kids are seeing out in markets and restaurants. That sort of thing to make it more appealing.”

The difference seems to be working in the district’s favor. Using other programs, children are learning about the fruits and vegetables they’re eating and where they come from through the Harvest of the Month and the Farm to School programs.

“We’ve been real deliberate about buying local items and hooking up with farmers to deliver those fresh fruits and veggies,” said Acker.

Now Acker’s department is in the process of putting together a wellness council that will come up with the new wellness and physical education policies to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards. There are now strict guidelines as to what schools may and may not sell in terms of food items in schools.

At the last school board meeting, Acker presented what the district must abide as part of the Healthy Kids Hunger Free Act of 2010. The plans are to have all of the wellness policy issues updated for the district this summer. It’s a federal mandate for all schools nationwide.

As part of another grant, the district has also been working with the University of Washington to track fruits and vegetable consumption in the school district for the last two years. According to Acker, that report should be out soon and should tell the district what kids are responding to in the cafeteria.

“I know its been a struggle for school districts to make kids take their fruits and vegetables,” said Acker. “It hasn’t been as much of a struggle for us as it has other school districts.”

The district saw about a 10 to 20 percent increase in high school meals, which is the hardest demographic to reach she said. High schoolers have the option of going off-campus for lunch, bringing their own or eating in the student-run store outside of the cafeteria options.

The Renton School District is also involved with a Robert Wood Johnson study to measure how much students are taking versus how much they are being offered.

“So that will be really interesting to see those statistics; we haven’t done anything like that before,” said Acker.

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