A southwest Forsyth school that has been nationally recognized for its healthy habits recently celebrated National School Lunch Week to highlight nutritional practices key to the institution’s overall health.
District 24 state Rep. Sheri Gilligan, along with Forsyth County Board of Education member Tom Cleveland, toured Brandywine Elementary School on Thursday and ate a school lunch as part of a weeklong effort to increase school lunch participation, according to Brandywine’s food and nutrition manager, Tracy Kern.
Kern said she and her team offered various incentives throughout the week to increase participation and brought Gilligan and Cleveland in to discuss “different legislative issues that are important to food nutrition.”
“We talked about continued support of healthcare and retirement issues but also issues surrounding free or reduced lunch and what our county needs,” she said. “There is a need in Forsyth County for financial assistance for those meal programs and even though we’re touted as one of wealthiest counties in Georgia, we still have that need.
“Our main purpose was also to highlight food and nutrition department; we have so much negativity surrounding it, but it’s not bad at all — we are excelling in what we do under the guidelines we have to follow.”
At Forsyth County Schools’ 19th annual Food and Nutrition Banquet held earlier this year, Valerie Bowers, director of the district’s food and nutrition services, emphasized the relatively low school lunch participation numbers, noting less than half – 42 percent – of all Forsyth County students participate in school meal programs.
Andrea Perkins, a registered dietician and assistant director of FCS’ food and nutrition services, said this is, in part, due to the fact that many Forsyth County parents are hesitant to allow their kids to participate in school meal programs, which are generally thought of as less healthy than a homemade meal.
“Some parents think they can prepare a healthier lunch,” she said. “But a lot of those [homemade lunches] are white breads with chips and a fruit juice. We give kids greens, juices with no sugar added, but yet all [parents] see is pizza or chicken chunks.
“We do serve [those,] but it’s whole grain breaded chicken chunks or whole grain crust and it really is healthier than what the parents pack because it’s specifically made for schools; it’s whole-grain rich, it’s low in sodium, it has zero trans-fat.”
Kern said getting students to purchase a school lunch — even if it’s only one — is a step in the right direction, another reason Brandywine highlighted National School Lunch Week.
“We had a contest between classrooms where the class with highest [school lunch] participation gets a $20 visa card to spend in their classroom,” she said. “It’s important to increase participation because we want to make sure that everyone who wants to be fed can be fed and make it feel like it’s a happy place to come in and get lunch.
“If we can at least get a student in here once, they will hopefully go home and tell their mom, ‘I ate school lunch and it was really good’ and this is just a perfect week to highlight our nutrition program to let parents and students know how good it is.”