Brain foods

Smart changes: For breakfast, Griffin says, “We normally have juice because that’s what kids tend to like and purchase. But with Brain Foods, we put out more fresh fruit, including the requested grapes, apples, oranges, bananas and blueberries. We made sure that all cereals were low in sugar. We had all whole-wheat toast instead of white and whole-grain muffins, and removed Pop Tarts. Lastly, we added more high protein foods.” She says about 30% of the breakfast menu offerings were modified to qualify as Brain Foods. Breakfast menus were changed in all 88 schools in the district and breakfast participation during testing—April 10-25—increased by 4.3% from February and March.

“For lunch, we emphasized more of the whole-grain foods and the higher protein foods that are lower in fat,” she says. “We had just started our produce bars in March, and those have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, so that worked right into the concept of Brain Foods.” Other lunch changes included adding a low-fat turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread and an increase in beans, fresh cucumbers, cauliflower, mandarin oranges and sweet potatoes. Lunch menus were changed in 60 elementary schools—secondary schools’ lunch menus were not changed because their testing schedule was different than elementary schools.

In her role as pathwise instructor, McKenney assists new teachers, provides professional development and does some in-class instruction, including piloting an assessment clinic in three schools to teach brain-based learning techniques for students to use during testing. One part of the clinic was teaching students about the importance of eating nutritious foods and drinking warm water to keep the brain hydrated and alert. “In doing this clinic, we thought, we really need to extend this to foodservice and make it district wide,” she says. “We thought people really needed to know which foods were good for their brains and that helped to prompt Brain Foods.”

Marketing support: To market the menu changes, Griffin first contacted all principals to get their support. She then took the idea to the students and parents through the district’s phone messaging system, The School Connects, which calls every parent and plays a prerecorded message. In the cafeterias, Griffin and her staff of 460 placed signs at the point of service advertising the offerings as Brain Foods that would help increase attention and memory. Both Griffin and McKenney say their efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the students. “The students said they were very pleased that we would make an effort to help support them, and that we felt they could do a good job,” Griffin says. “Lynn said it really made a difference in their self-esteem just knowing that someone was supporting and encouraging them.”

Because of the success of Brain Foods, Griffin says the program will continue next year with a few alterations. “One principal asked the cafeteria manager to continue doing Brain Foods throughout the year. I’m thinking that next year, we are going to take a good look at this because it shouldn’t just be for testing. It should be all the time to promote learning,” she says. “Food is going up in price, so we are going to have to look at what we can do. We are looking for creative ways to get more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains into our program.”

Other changes in the foodservice department for Brain Foods will be increasing the number of options that are high in antioxidants and further eliminating entrees that are higher in fat, because those tend to make students tired. McKenney also wants to see the Brain Foods menu become a permanent addition.

More involvement: Other changes to Brain Foods will include getting more departments within the district involved. “This all happened so fast. We didn’t have enough time to get everything together this year, but we are hoping to do that next year,” Griffin says. “The PE department head said that next year she is planning on having all her PE teachers work with the kids on exercises that work with both parts of the brain, which research says helps.” Additional research suggests music such as Mozart helps children concentrate and peppermint awakens the senses, aiding in alertness. “I started thinking that we needed to have Mozart played on the buses and some peppermint that the custodians could put in the rooms,” she adds.

McKenney adds, “Teachers have the ability to change brains through classroom instruction, and with Brain Foods we can do the same thing with nutrition within a school site.”

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