Local schools tasked with serving healthy meals

LCS Nutrition Photo.
 Photo courtesy  Leon County Schools' Nutrition Instagram: @lcs_nutrition.

Nutrition is critically important for everyone and it’s important that a healthy lifestyle begins at an early age.

Because children in school are offered two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, it is important that their schools offer them the best nutritious options possible.

James Howcroft,  director of nutrition services for Leon County Schools, explained how the district approaches nutritious meals for its students.

“We have a dietitian on staff who ensures we’re in compliance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s nutrition regulations,” he said.

With the average child starting school at age 5, their exposure to the food schools offer may be the main contribution to their diet. Howcroft’s stance on starting balanced eating as early as possible was, “Habits are established at a young age. Eating nutritious foods helps them do better in school. A nutrient, such as calcium, is rapidly deposited in bones in tween and teen years, and affects bone strength later in life.”

In Leon County, the nutrition regulations are based on the most recent dietary guidelines for Americans. Although the options available for students are of good quality, he said, some parents say they are more comfortable packing their child’s food.

“I have seen what my son’s school has to offer, but he is a picky eater. At home, I know what he likes and doesn’t like, and packing his lunch assures me that he will eat. He has told me that he prefers to take his lunch with him because I make it,” said Jennifer Grant, the mother of a student at Fairview Middle School.

When the cafeteria menu is created, things that are considered are eye appeal, the perceived health of the food, difficulty of preparation, cost, meal pattern and programs like “meatless Monday.”

At 30 of the schools in Leon County, students have the choice of eating free breakfast and lunch. There numerous options offered every day that students can choose from.

Kaley Mialki, a registered dietitian with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, told the Tallahassee Democrat, “School administrators recognize their role in feeding children and try to keep current so children will consume their recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. With more stringent nutrition requirements for school meals, food and nutrition service departments must find creative ways to sell healthier meals.”

Proper nutrition is critical in a child’s development, and it the responsibility for schools to continue to elevate their consciousness about what they serve students. For some, unfortunately, the meals they receive from school may be the only food they eat in a given day.

For any nutrition questions that parents or anyone may have, information is posted on the leonschools.net website.