It’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and students at Broad Acres Elementary School are making their way to the cafeteria to receive their lunch. The menu options consist of pancakes, carrots, spinach salad, cherry tomatoes, strawberry banana yogurt and milk.
“I like the carrots, but I don’t like the white dressing,” said second grade student Ashley Padaro as she refers to the Ranch dressing. “It tastes like Cool Whip.”
Ashley along with her classmate Rose Legiste opt for the tomatoes instead of the carrots and they both gulp down their strawberry banana yogurt as they make yogurt mustaches to each other.
“Yesterday I ate the fruits and vegetables. Today I’m eating the vegetable and fruit yogurt,“ said Rose as she pops a tomato in her mouth.
New U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches require that all students choose at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal. For Montgomery County Public Schools, the options to choose a healthy food item should be easier as students can pick from a wide variety.
According to Marla Caplon, director of Food and Nutrition Services for MCPS, students have several new healthy options to select from such as zucchini, celery sticks, spinach salad, romaine salad, red pepper strips and hummus. But for many students, as explained by Broad Acres Principal Luis San Sebastian, the availability of healthy meals at school is only half the battle. A greater challenge comes into play when the meals students consume before and after school are considered.
“What I do know is many students and parents share they haven’t eaten the night before,” stated Sebastian as he goes into details about the school helping provide children with meals on the weekend and sessions that teach parents about preparing cheap and healthy meals.
At Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, where Caplon reports that nearly 95 percent of students are eligible for free/reduced lunch, there is a Smart Sacks initiative in place that provides a solution to this challenge. With this program, Broad Acres works with Manna Food Center to provide students in need with healthy meals to take home on the weekends.
Smart Sacks started in 2005, with a “goal to be in every elementary school with children who have a high FARM rate,” said program director Alexandria Scott.
See what other area schools are doing to promote healthy eating by reading our Lunch Lessons series.
Smart Sacks services are given to any school that has a high rate of students who receive free and reduced meals, Scott said. For Broad Acres Elementary, which has the highest rate of eligible students in the county who don’t pay full-price for lunch, it only makes sense that their school is a recipient of the programs services.
Montgomery College’s Takoma Park campus is the sponsor school for Broad Acres Elementary, and student volunteers are responsible for picking the meals up from Manna Food Center and delivering them to the students on Friday after school.
Since the start of the Smart Sacks initiative, Scott says they have been getting nothing but positive feedback from the schools.
“We send out monthly reports to counselors and they send us back statistics and feedback, said Scott. “Many say teachers are reporting that discipline problems are going down, which makes sense because if you haven’t had breakfast you might act out. I know I would.”
TELL US: Do you think programs like the Smart Sacks initiative should be expanded beyond elementary schools and brought into local middle and high schools? Do you think the public school system does an effective job in providing students with healthy lunch meals?