The Baldwin City school district's two elementary schools have earned honors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their efforts to promote good nutrition and healthy behavior.
On Thursday, the agency presented the district's primary and intermediate elementary schools with the HealthierUS School Challenge Bronze Award, part of a national recognition initiative for schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program.
The Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center serves students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The Intermediate Center serves students in grades 3 through 5
"Our children's ability to learn in the classroom and grow up healthy depends on what we do right now to secure their future," said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer services, who came to the district to present the awards.
The awards, which come with a $500 prize for each school, recognize schools' efforts to promote good nutrition and physical activity.
Julie Henry, the district's food service director, said the Baldwin City schools had an easier time than many in meeting the Bronze Award standards because most of it involved things the district was already doing.
Last year, she said, the district got an early jump implementing the new federal nutrition guidelines for school meals calling for more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, less fat and less sodium.
"Since we knew the changes were coming, we started to implement some of the things the year before," Henry said. "So the changes I don't think were quite as drastic this year as they were for some schools that didn't make any preliminary changes."
As part of the changeover, Henry said all the breads and whole grain dishes served in the schools are now made from scratch in one central bakery.
"They taste better if they're from scratch and freshly baked," she said.
In addition, she said, the grade schools have activities beyond recess and physical education classes to encourage students to get more physical activity.
"There's also a walking program right after lunch for the kiddos at the primary center," she said. "When they're done eating, instead of just sitting and waiting for the class to be done, they can go walk around in the gym and get some exercise that way. So there are a few little extra opportunities like that."
To qualify for the award, schools submit a formal application and have to meet basic criteria set forth by the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. Those include the recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as well as the Institute of Medicine's recommendations for foods that should be served in schools outside of the organized school lunches.
In addition, schools have to have a local school wellness policy, as mandated by Congress. And they must commit to meeting the criteria throughout their four year certification period.
Henry said that will be more of a challenge next year because the standards will apply to school breakfasts as well as lunches.