BY CYNTHIA SWEENEY
North Hawaii News
It may come as a surprise to some, but there are kids in our school system who have never seen, let alone eaten, vegetables as common as celery. And as statistics on child obesity continue to grow, it has come to the attention of the USDA, that changes in the National School Lunch Program need to be made.
“The National School Lunch program will be changing. It will take time, but at least they have a game plan, and I think they’re on the right track,” said Sue Uyehara.
Uyehara is the Director for the Office of Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs in Honolulu. She was on the Big Island Saturday to speak to educators at the annual NPAC (Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition) meeting held at Kahua Ranch. Here, about 50 educators, teachers and principals shared their support and enthusiasm for various programs aimed at fighting obesity and teaching our kids to eat a healthier diet.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables is the message,” Uyehara said. “We are planting seeds, so to speak, to get them to appreciate fruits and vegetables in their raw state.
“The school may be introducing children to kiwi fruit or blueberries for the first time, and they take that message back home. It takes time to change the culture of how people eat.”
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables is a national nutrition program that was implemented in 2008. It was a new initiative to introduce kids to fruits and vegetables during school hours. This is one of five different child nutrition programs Uyehara’s office oversees, including the National Lunch Program here in Hawaii. Her office is the State agency directly in contact with the USDA with regard to kid’s nutrition programs, and channels $58 million of federal funds directly to local schools. At the meeting, she outlined several positive changes to the National Lunch Program that are coming to a school cafeteria near you:
* White bread will be replaced with whole grain bread.
* Whereas fruits and vegetables now count as one serving, (you get either or, not both) they will count as two separate servings.
* Milk will be low-fat or skim, and water will be available in all cafeterias.
* The change will also do away with chemically fortified foods not linked to real food, like popsicles fortified with vitamin C, and all processed foods.
Uyehara explained that the change from the “traditional meal” to “real food” is still going through the legislative process, and is expected to be implemented by 2013. During this process, Uyehara urged educators to contact their legislators supporting these measures.
The changeover still faces many challenges, including the procurement and distribution of large quantities of fresh produce. But in this regard, the Big Island is ahead of the game. Programs like Farm to School and the School Garden Network are very successful here. Currently, 50 out of 75 schools on the island have gardens that students cultivate and harvest.
“The Big Island is the poster child for Farm to School,” said Jennifer Dang, NPAC state director and one of the meeting’s panelists.
Uyehara stressed that grant money is available to schools for additional nutrition based programs like these. She also acknowledged that schools already have a lot on their plate, which is why the application process for these grants is streamlined. For the Farm to School program, $100,000 is available for each applicant, with a deadline of Oct. 1 of this year.
The value of such nutritional programs was emphasized by Art Souza, Superintendent West Hawaii Complex Area Schools.
“The value of the garden projects is not just with nutrition, but they are teaching kids in the 21st century to be critical thinkers,” Souza said.
Kohala Elementary School principal Danny Garcia concurred, explaining how their garden affects how his students learn. Four of Garcia’s fifth grade students were also on the panel to share their experience first hand with their garden.
“It’s not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” emphasized Kathy Mishina, a Public Health Nurse.
Mishina is monitoring Konawaena’s 5-2-1-0 program, in which fourth graders are taking simple steps towards a healthier ohana. Eat five fruits and vegetables a day, limit screen time, computer and TV to two hours a day, take part in one hour of physical activity a day, and cut sugary drinks down to zero.
“They are four simple things that everyone can do,” Mishina said.
For more information on any of these programs contact Kathie Pomeroy, Hawaii County NPAC Coordinator at (808) 315-0547 or [email protected]