Claremore Daily Progress

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Education

September 8, 2010

PM UPDATE: School lunches that taste good and are good for you

CLAREMORE — When was the last time your kids actually enjoyed a school lunch? Claremore Public Schools is hoping it was this week.

A completely renovated Child Nutrition Department was implemented over the summer months, and kids are the beneficiaries of an upgraded, updated style of school lunch.

Pam Watson, a registered and licensed dietitian with Sodexo USA, joined the school district as part of the restructuring. Sodexo is the leader in K-12 food service and employ more registered dietitians than any other public company in America.

The Sodexo philosophy is that student achievement starts with nutrition. Well-nourished students perform better in the classroom. They are dedicated to providing healthy, nutritious offerings in school cafeterias. Their professionally trained chefs create and kid-test new recipes every day to make sure students have fresh, delicious, and nutritious meals.

“It is important for parents to know that we now have variety at all school sites — your child has food choices that were not available before,” Watson said.

All three elementary schools and Central Upper Elementary (CUE) have implemented Kids Way Café. Four choices are available each day — two hot meals and two cold meals (sandwich and salad), and in addition to their entrée the “offerings bar” is available with fresh and canned fruit and fresh vegetables — every day.

The junior high has Energy Download Zone (EDz) with four separate stations to choose from — sub sandwiches, pizza, burgers, and one “home cooked” entrée. They, too, have the offerings bar with fresh fruit and vegetables.

High school students now have the Crossroads Café — a food court that includes a grill station with three different options, a favorites station — offering home comfort food, and a creation station which changes food type weekly — from Asian, to pasta, to other themes, they also have a made-to-order deli.

Candy and fountain drink machines are gone and in their place are healthier options for snacking.

Though it may be tough to give up those candy bars and soda pop, students are making healthier choices with the replacement options — including juices, Vitamin Water, sports drinks and V8 Fusion.

“It’s something that we’ve needed for a long time,” said one parent.

“It’s tough to control what your child eats when they’re not at home — it’s good to know there are healthier options available.”

Watson is quick to note that the options are all in keeping with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation — and its mission to combat childhood obesity.

“If you can educate children — particularly at the younger ages — about portion size and nutrition, they will often times make very good choices,” Watson said.

“And when children choose what they want to eat, there is definitely less food wasted.”

With all the changes to the physical layout of the cafeterias, and the new menu options, what students may not notice is that the food preparation is also healthier. The fryers have been removed from the junior high and high school and low fat milk is offered in place of whole milk. Fresh produce and breads are now delivered weekly.

“Most kids never notice when you cook with fresher ingredients, and prepare foods in a healthier manner — but they certainly receive the benefits,” Watson said.

“Younger kids will listen to you — even if you don’t think so — about food choice,” Watson said.

She related a story from her own experience with her son. At the time he was 10 years old and, as happens to many parents, they were pushed for time and ended up in the McDonalds drive-thru for the second night in a row. When Watson bemoaned the fact that they were eating the fast food her son said, “Don’t worry, I’ll just eat oatmeal in the morning and my cholesterol will go down.”

Watson encourages parents to speak to their children about good eating habits, and to make fast food trips the exception and not the rule. She also asks parents to check out the Sodexo education website — it offers many helpful tips for nutrition and is available by logging on to sodexoeducation.com.

Watson is excited to offer the Lift Off education piece that is available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Parents and educators can help by sending the same message to the students — good nutrition and healthy lifestyle is a key to combating obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart problems.

“If we all do our part, we can make a difference,” Watson said.

“I am passionate about teaching students, teachers, and the community about ways to make healthier choices.”

Claremore Schools Superintendent Mike McClaren is excited about the opportunity to work with Sodexo and the enthusiasm that Watson brings to her job.

“She clearly has the best interest of the students at heart and we are already seeing so many positive changes in the menus. This has been something we have wanted to do for a while and are glad that we can provide healthier meals to our students,” McClaren said.

Watson’s move to Claremore is a bit of a homecoming. She grew up in Oklahoma City, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. However, her career had taken her first to Dallas, then to the east coast — working in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and most recently in North Carolina where she was the resident dietician at North Carolina Central University in Durham. It was there that she implemented “The Greatest Loser” contest — and is proud that one group of 18 students lost 179 pounds in just eight weeks.

She and her son, Tré, a junior at Claremore High School, are excited to be in Claremore.

“I’d forgotten how laid back it is in Oklahoma.  The people and the community are so nice, it’s like we’ve always been here,” Watson said.

(Audrey Webber is the Claremore Public Schools Public Information Officer.)

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