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It takes more than books for kids to learn

 Betti WigginsBy Betti Wiggins
Special to the Michigan Citizen

All schools were open Sept. 3 across the city of Detroit. However, prior to opening day, the Detroit Public Schools Office of School Nutrition was hard at work creating menus to meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meals requirements. The new healthy food standards are the results of federal legislation passed in the Healthy and Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The act explicitly sets forth nutrition standards for all foods served in school meals. Those standards require that food be lower in fat. The HHFKA requires schools to provide wholegrain breads and pastas; beans, peas and legumes; and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Milk may be flavored or unflavored and must contain no more than one percent milkfat.

The healthy food offerings were a direct response to the childhood obesity epidemic that is prevalent and pervasive among our early learners, pre-kindergarten and other school age children in Detroit and across the nation.

The Office of School Nutrition embraces and welcomes these new kid-friendly food requirements. We are committed to providing good food of the highest quality and biologic value to all the students we serve; whether they are students in the Detroit Public School district, the Education Achievement Authority school district, the Highland Park Community Schools, or the ten public school academies we are proud to say are our customers. When child-nutrition professionals offer the right foods, we are insuring all students enter the classroom ready to learn. Current research demonstrates a well-nourished child is a better student.

Since 2011, a federally funded program, Community Eligibility Option (CEO), ensures all students are fed at no charge, enabling every child, regardless of income, to have a healthy school breakfast, lunch and, in some schools, a supper meal. The program is included in the HHFKA 2010. The Community Eligibility Option is good for all kids and good for all families.

The USDA also provides dollars for child nutrition programs to purchase food and services.  When we source food locally, the dollars are returned to our state and city economy.  Not only do we buy local or state grown produce, the Office of School Nutrition provides jobs.  Many of the “school lunch,” jobs are held by Detroit residents. Many offer more than a livable wage and year round employment and some provide health and other benefits.

The DPS Office of School Nutrition supports “Buy Michigan” and looks for opportunities to buy “Detroit.” Recently, we bought 50,000 peaches grown along Lake Michigan in our state and initiated a large blueberry purchase from an African American farmer in Covert, Mich.  Throughout the year, we will purchase several fresh or processed fruits and vegetables from Michigan farmers, including acorn squash, asparagus, and apples — all grown, processed or manufactured in Michigan.

Each school day, the Office of School Nutrition serves more than 47,000 breakfasts, 60,000 lunches and 9,000 suppers. These programs all require lots of food. All child nutrition meals intend to reduce student food insecurity, improve access to healthy, nutrient-dense foods and enhance awareness of how good food impacts student health. Child nutrition programs support Michigan’s agricultural economy and our city‘s economy. When your efforts are geared toward home and hearth, you are working for stakeholders not shareholders.

With all of these goals and objectives, Detroit Public Schools’ Office of School Nutrition believes it takes more than books for kids to learn.

Betti Wiggins is executive director of the Office of School Nutrition for the Detroit Public Schools. She is also a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council. For more information visit www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net or email detroitfoodpolicycouncil@gmail.com

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