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Laurens School District 56: Embracing Healthy Meals

laurens2Laurens 56 Child Nutrition Director Cindy Jacobs knew that meeting the updated nutrition standards for school meals wouldn’t come without challenges. Change is often difficult. But, with a little creativity and a lot of hard work, Cindy and the students of Laurens 56 have embraced the healthy changes. Here’s how: 

Student Buy-In
Shortly after the standards went into effect, Cindy visited classrooms in her middle and high school to discuss the new meal standards and why they are important. She also worked with teachers to have students help prepare a lunch menu for a week using the updated nutrition standards.

“This activity helped the students understand why the standards had changed, and why good nutrition is important,” said Cindy. “It also gave them buy-in, which made them more excited about trying the new menu items.”

Taste-Testing
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Before introducing new menu items, the district offers taste-testing events.

“Students are often hesitant to try foods that they’ve never seen or tasted,” Cindy said. “Taste-testing is a fun way to introduce them to new foods in small quantities, and shows them that their feedback is valued.”

Students in District 56 are now eating more fruits and vegetables (collards and broccoli are among the favorites!). Schools are also switching out less healthy items, like hamburgers and hot dogs, for healthier options, like grilled chicken fajita wraps, since they know students will eat and enjoy them.

Creating School Environments that Value Health
Cindy’s overall goal is to ensure that students in Laurens 56 receive healthy messages throughout the entire school day. For example, Cindy encourages teachers and cafeteria staff to speak positively about the healthy school meals.

“Students look up to teachers and staff as role models. It’s important that we set the right example,” said Cindy.

The district also participates in the Farm to School program and purchases local foods whenever possible. In addition, the high school is working on growing herbs in the school greenhouse that can be used in the school meal programs.

“If students know where their food comes from or – even better – have a hand in growing it, they not only learn a valuable lesson about our food system, but they are more likely to try new, healthy items,” Cindy said.

Outside of the cafeteria, Cindy worked with school administrators this fall to encourage schools to participate in International Walk to School Day on October 7, to promote the importance of daily physical activity. Three out of five schools in the district participated. Laurens 56 also participates in Fuel Up to Play 60—a school nutrition and exercise program that encourages students to lead healthier lives—and plans to join the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program next year.

“We know that good nutrition and physical activity help prepare students to be better learners,” said Cindy. “It’s exciting to be a part of this movement.”

Cindy Jacobs is the director of child nutrition at Laurens County School District 56 in Clinton, SC. Each day, she serves about 3,200 kids across five schools.