By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
USD No. 480 has recently stepped up to the plate to provide healthy meals for students, with the help of the State Department of Education Nutrition Services. However, as much as Director of Nutrition Services for USD 480 Connie Vogts adheres to the newly transformed menu, where healthy children are concerned, her part is only one third of a very important equation.
“The State of Kansas has recently provided school cafeterias throughout the state with a menu,” Vogts said. “We now have four-week cycle menus that the State Department of Education Nutrition Services put together and they are called the Healthier Kansas Menus.
“What these menus do, they increase the fruits and vegetables, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains into the school meals,” she explained. “They are very specific for calories, fat and fiber. We really are hitting those targets that USDA has set.”
The new menus, which are recycled every four weeks, not only have health benefits, but economic benefits as well.
“There are more items prepared from scratch now,” she said. “We just recycle this menu every four weeks, we start over with week one. The benefits are it makes menu planning a lot easier. Once you figure out how much of everything you need, it helps with ordering. We now don’t have to stock tons of different items in a freezer that we don’t have space for. So, it helps in a lot of different ways.”
The nutrition analysis is provided for students and parents and with specific guidelines that must be followed, the nutritional value of the meals literally speak for themselves – right there in black and white.
“We have to analyze over a five-day period,” Vogts said. “Some days could be a little higher than others, but very seldom will we see much lower because we have to meet the targets.
“School meals have always kind of taken a bad rap,” she continued. “They have been considered high fat, low nutrient and just from box to freezer to plate. We are really trying to get away from that. School nutrition plays a really big roll in kids’ education. A lot of people don’t get that, they don’t understand the connection between nutrition and education. We are just trying to get the most nutritious meals out there to prepare these kids to learn on a daily basis.”
When educating students in regards to their eating habits, Vogts provides a scenario most high school students can identify with.
“There is a scenario that I use when I talk to high school kids that don’t eat breakfast,” she said. “They say they don’t eat breakfast, are not hungry yet in the morning or don’t get up in time. I tell them they have to think of their body like a car.
“What happens to your car if you don’t put fuel in it? It runs out of gas,” she explained. “If they eat supper at about 6 or 7 o’clock, they go to bed, get up for school the next morning and don’t eat breakfast, and here at the high school some of the kids don’t eat lunch until about 1 o’clock. So if they have not had any nourishment from the night before until 1 o’clock the next day, their bodies are out of fuel – they are running on empty. It is hard to concentrate when you are hungry, your energy level is down.”
Vogts and her staff are completely dedicated to providing healthy meals to the students of USD 480. However, regardless of how hard they work, they cannot accomplish a healthy school district on their own.
“It doesn’t matter how healthy we make the meals we serve our students, a lot of responsibility still falls on the parents,” she said. “In the evenings we have to have nutritious meals and physical activities. It is so important to spend more family time and activity time rather than time in front of the computer or TV. That is our biggest challenge.”
Along with parent participation, nutrition education is vital to steering students toward a healthy lifestyle as well.
“Without nutrition education, it is a lost cause,” Vogts said. “You have to teach kids why they have to eat fruits and vegetables, why they have to eat the whole grains and why they need to exercise more.
“We have tried to address what we can through our school wellness policy,” she added. “Every student first through sixth grade has P.E. every day. Last year was the first year we implemented that. Nutrition education we are working on. It is a slow process just because of time restraints. Teachers have so much dumped on them right now that they are required to teach that it is hard to find the time for that extra nutrition education.”
Connie Vogts is dedicated to providing healthy options for students throughout the district. In fact, nearly five years ago when she began her career at USD 480, she transformed snack bars at local schools to no longer include unhealthy options such as snack cakes and items full of sugar and fat.
Vogts understands the importance of healthy eating habits, however, she is aware of the fact that healthy meals are only a third of the big picture.
“We are trying to address all three issues, the meals, the nutrition education and the physical activity,” she said.
As far as meals for students throughout the district are concerned, Vogts is confident USD 480 and the State of Kansas are on the right track.