Using school lunches to teach healthy lifestyles

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By Caroline Serritella
The Meridian Times

Times are changing slowly, but when it comes to healthy living, Okemos schools are stepping up. With more than 3 million cases of child obesity every year, schools are making changes to benefit the lives of students.

Fries, cheeseburgers and fried chicken are common cafeteria items, but Lynna Hassenger, director of food services, informed the school board during the meeting of Oct. 12 that cooks have been shutting down the fryers in communities in the area.

Along with that, schools have refrained from putting sugary drinks in fridges and vending machines. According to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that the federal government initially advocated in 2010, drinks with more than 20 calories per serving can’t be served, which would still let Coke zero, zero-calorie Red Bull and Monster pass the test.

When Hassenger was asked by board member why she won’t put out low-calorie drinks, she said, “I made that decision because personally, I don’t find them healthy. We always get contacted by those vendors to put their product in but I’ll not promote that.”

Another drink that schools around the country are offering is Starbucks double shot refresher, but Food Services is refraining. Parents’ biggest question is how the food is prepared.

“My biggest concern is how fresh the food is that’s being put out and how things are prepared, but knowing that you guys look for products that have less than five ingredients is easing.” Board Member Tonya Rodriguez said.

When it comes to expenses, the board has seen a significant loss in revenue from last year, which was around $65,000 due to shutting down fryers and greater enrollment, so more overall costs.

“From last year, we have 102 more students enrolled in Okemos. When we saw the alarming statistic from last year we started re-budgeting our costs and made changes,” Superintendent Catherine Ash said.

When you count in the prices of new whole grains, more students and expensive organic food, costs are bound to skyrocket.

“Things have definitely changed since I was in high school 30 years ago. We used to get donuts and egg and cheese sandwiches, then go to the smoke lounge,” Board Member Vincent Lyon-Callo said.

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