Golden Radish Winners Inspire Healthy School Meals During National Nutrition Month

March 23, 2015

Students learn good nutrition skills at home, but their time in school plays an important role in fortifying those skills into lifelong healthy habits.

Georgia Organics’ Farm to School program has provided an excellent guide to assist district nutrition directors and school faculty members make nutrition education a fun and flavorful experience for Georgia students.

The program builds connections between school curriculum, gardening, food and nutrition by centering on the 4 C’s of farm to school activities: classroom, cafeteria, culinary and community. By focusing on these pillars, school leaders implement hands-on nutritional activities such as gardening projects, taste tests, and cooking activities as well as offer school meals with fresh food from local farmers.

Georgia Organics has partnered again with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), Georgia Department of Education (DOE) and Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) for this year's upcoming Golden Radish Awards season. For National Nutrition Month, PHWEEK is highlighting the successful work of Georgia's past Golden Radish winners.

One of the standout adopters of the farm to school program was Burke County Public Schools, which earned an award at the gold level for their extensive efforts to put local healthy foods on cafeteria plates and even in the classroom.

“Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools,” said Brianna Dumas, RDN, LD, farm to school dietician for Burke County Public Schools. “Receiving the Golden Radish Award inspires Burke County to grow the Farm to School seed. It has provided us with a rubric of growth and made us more aware of programs we could be offering to enhance our future nutrition education efforts.”

Student engagement has played a major role in helping Burke County Public Schools maintain a sustainable farm to school program. The feedback students offer – whether good or bad – helps Dumas and faculty members shape school menus and food offerings.

"Learning to eat right is just part of the education process," said Dumas. “Change does not happen overnight and neither do changes in young palettes. We understand that introducing nutrient dense, nutritious foods at a young age will benefit children in more ways than one. Sometimes the green smoothies or kale chips aren’t a hit at first, but we try again with a new idea. Repetition is key in our success.”

Students in all five schools in Burke County also enjoyed 20 cooking activities throughout the year and participated in 18 taste tests of locally grown food such as whole grain grits, watermelon and collard greens.

“There is no question that our students, staff and teachers love the local produce,” said Dumas. “We have very low plate waste numbers, especially with our local items. The local items are more aesthetically-pleasing to our students, taste better and have more than likely have been grown by a family friend. Our entire district has noticed the difference in our food quality.”

To make it easier for schools to bring fresh, locally grown foods to the school day, DOE, GDA, DPH and Georgia Organics recently partnered to introduce a new Farm to School toolkit in February. The toolkit includes background information on farm to school program implementations, local food procurement processes, food safety, menu planning and student engagement tips.

Emily Cumbie-Drake, Georgia Organics’ Farm to School coordinator, is hoping for even more extraordinary examples healthy eating and agricultural lessons among the 2015 Golden Radish nominees. She says it only takes small actions to receive an honorary award, and more importantly, impart important healthy eating lessons on students.

“We want people to understand that they don’t need extensive resources to implement a successful Farm to School program or even be a Golden Radish Winner,” she said. “We encourage our participants to start off small and work towards more robust activities over time. Making small changes in your school meals and snacks, hosting taste tests or even coordinating a discussion about food can be the start of healthier behaviors and more positive attitudes about organic, locally grown foods among students.”

For more information about the Georgia Organics’ Farm to School program or criteria information for the 2015 Golden Radish Awards, visit www.georgiaorganics.org

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