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Districts get an education in nutrition

Updated school food rules arriving this fall at a cafeteria near you

Foods grown by Saratoga County farmers on the way to cafeterias in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards. Submitted photo.

Foods grown by Saratoga County farmers on the way to cafeterias in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards. Submitted photo.

— When classes start back up in a few weeks, students will notice more fruits and vegetables, specifically one cup of each at every meal. More varieties of produce will also be offered, nearly twice the amount offered prior to the new guidelines.

A unique district

One of the reasons why the district has been successful in revamping its menus is that it takes part in the Farm to School Program, which connects schools to farms in their communities, with the goal of serving healthy meals in cafeterias. Farm to School supports farmers by having the schools buy directly from them and providing students with opportunities to learn about nutrition and agriculture.

Nationally, an estimated 9,700 schools participate in the program in 2,255 districts across the country. New York State has more than 100programs in 15 school districts.

“When we first started looking for farmers, we eliminated French fries … and added roasted potatoes,” said Sullivan.

Along with getting more whole foods into the school came the need to educate food service workers on food preparation. To that end, the district welcomed Chef Noah Sheetz to demonstrate some kitchen skills and talk a bit about why Farm to School is important. Sheetz is executive chef to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has long been a proponent of the program.

Sullivan said having Sheetz visit was very good for the foodservice workers. As the district moved away from more processed foods, signs describing the farm foods were displayed in the cafeterias – helping kids make the connection to healthier foods.

Also bringing home that connection are the five school gardens within the district.

“Many children have no idea how food grows,” Sheetz said. “You can ask them about a vegetable growing in a garden, like potatoes or summers quash, and they have no idea what it is. Teaching them how food grows and how good it can be in a minimally processed form is an invaluable healthy lesson. They learn how much more nutritious it is without being processed.”

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