Part II of the healthy-lunch series will showcase FTM's interview with Gina Sawma. Sawma is the Food and Nutrition Director at Fort Thomas Independent Schools. Her degree is in clinical nutrition and food service management. She worked in the health care industry for 23 years before switching to schools. She's been in the school/food business for 6 years, 4 of which have been at FTIS.
You can read Part I here.
MC: What changes have been made in the HHS cafeteria, since I graduated in 2001?
GS: There have been many changes over the last 10 years since you left HHS. They have put restrictions on the number of fat, sugar, sodium grams and now calories. The rules in KY have been stricter than many states for a long time, so that is why the new Federal guidelines (Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010-implemented July 1, 2012) seems more severe to them. The malt machine you had from years ago has been gone for a while, but we do have a frozen yogurt machine now!
MC: What are the main positives you see from these changes?
GS: The positives are students may take up to 4 servings (2 cups) of fruits and vegetables and not be charged extra per meal.
The new changes are they have increased the serving and weekly requirements for all types of red, dark green, leafy and orange vegetables. They have restricted the "other vegetables" like green beans, and "starchy vegetables" like corn, peas and white potatoes which students love. Some type of legumes must be served once per week. They have limited the servings of grain per week and half must be "whole grain". (K-5, 8-9 oz. servings per week, 6-8, 9-10 oz. servings and 9-12, 10-12 oz. servings) They have limited us to 2 oz. of protein per meal. We were always permitted to serve a little more in past, now we can't with the calorie limitations we have to meet. A student is always permitted to buy "extra" if they want more food.
Students must take a minimum of 1 serving of a fruit or vegetable (1/2 cup) in their meal.
MC: Are the kids eating the food or do you see "throw away" increasing?
GS: We try to offer more choices so it will reduce the chance of it getting thrown away. Students in general even in Elementary levels when given the chance to make their own choices and even scoop their own portions will usually eat what they take. The new line at Woodfill is a good example.
MC: As a general rule, how are Fort Thomas Independent students as "eaters?"
GS: Ft. Thomas students are very healthy eaters. Especially in the higher levels, they seem educated in nutrition and make good choices. I believe this starts and comes from home. Continually exposing younger students to new foods over and over will encourage them to try new things and maybe they will end up liking them. It takes about 10-15 tries to get younger students to accept new food choices.
MC: Are kids going "off-campus" more?
GS: Every year we see a new group of students who venture off campus because it's new to them. It usually slows down when it gets colder and they realize how expensive it is to eat out and they can enjoy their lunchtime better relaxing here. The Chef's line at HHS has kept a lot of students eating here at school.
MC: How are you competing with these other options that do not have to comply with the government's mandate?
GS: We offer more trendy items that are geared more to the teenage taste buds. We offer wraps, homemade pizza's, specialty sandwiches and many more items. We make most of the items from scratch and get away from a lot of "processed items" which contain a lot of fat, sugar and sodium.
MC: Do you see FTIS taking away the open-campus policy?
GS: The "open campus" lunch policy is a board of education decision. It would be very difficult for me to speculate on what their position currently is or will be in the future.
Here's the summary of the good and bad of the new guidelines.
I love the increased fruits and vegetable servings, most people don't eat enough fruits and veggies. It should be "offer vs. serve" with no restrictions. Offer them a variety of all foods and let the student make their own choices. I would allow a little more protein, 1-2 more servings of grain and take off the calorie minimum and the maximum per week.
The new federal guidelines are addressing the national statistics of increased childhood obesity rates in this country.
We have found so far that students are not fond of sweet potato fries or sweet potato puffs! They don't taste like what you get out at restaurants because they are deep frying them! I am going to keep trying different ways to serve them.
The new guidelines are offering many challenges this year but I am very fortunate to be a part of the Ft. Thomas Independent School District and have great cafeteria staff to work with. We have the ability to nourish and feed children daily!