Kids Embrace Healthy Effort

School tunes in to students’ need for health, nutrition and companionship.

A program designed to get students to eat healthier in a Gainesboro, TN, middle school has resulted in a 10% increase in participation and a 50% increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, as students and faculty gobble up composed salads and fruit plates.

The program is called Helping You Get Slim, or HUGS, and features daily cafeteria menu items marked with a logo featuring two panda bears holding a heart between them. The offerings include grab-and-go salads, such as a chef’s salad, pre-packaged fruit and yogurt plates, and on the hot line, such items as the grilled chicken patty and sides of green beans or other vegetables.

FoodService Director - HUGS - Jackson County School DistrictThe strongest participation drivers are the salads and fruit plates, reports Brenda Hawkins, nutrition services supervisor for Jackson County School District. “Where we normally have our a la carte items like chips, we are also featuring fresh fruits,” she adds. “It’s the last stop before the cashier and it’s an impulse item to put on their trays. It amazed me how many children are actually taking extra fruit.”

The district kicked off the program in February with BMI testing and blood pressure screening for all middle schoolers, the results of which are sent directly to parents with information on what to do if a child is overweight or at risk of being so.

Eat smart, move more: HUGS is a three-pronged program concentrating on nutrition, exercise and “tuning in,” says Hawkins. “The ‘tuning in’ part is not only about tuning into your own body and eating when you’re hungry, but tuning in to individual differences and accepting people as they are—whether they be overweight or [disabled].”

The middle school has about 600 students in grades four to eight, with about 60% of its students being eligible for free or reduced-price meals, so the Panda items, as Hawkins calls them, fit neatly into the reimbursable meal program. The pre-made salads and the fruit plates, along with a milk, are complete meals in themselves.

"Reimbursable meals are the blood of my program, so I don’t do anything that [negatively] affects those meals,” she explains.

Another important element to the program is exercise. Students can now take 10-minute walks along the school’s quarter-mile walking trail during their 30-minute lunch period. Volunteers, including parents and community members, supervise the walks as students set off for their walks in groups of up to 15 at a time. The school also has about 150 pedometers on hand for students who want to count their steps.

“The lunchroom monitors are the happiest people of them all, because it gets [the children] outside,” she says.
Hawkins believes that the walking element promotes physical as well as  mental well-being and camaraderie among the students. Hawkins noticed that a couple of students who are often seen alone seem to find companionship within their walking groups. “Because you have small groups going out for the walks, I think it forces [students] to be with people they are not accustomed to being with,” she asserts.

The school also tries to encourage students to become more health and nutrition focused by posting weekly “HUGS tips.” Posters in the cafeteria offer up suggestions such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator and taking 10-minute stretch or walk breaks in order to add more activity to your day. Another tip stated: “Reject the idea that beauty comes in only one size!”

“I don’t want to stress weight reduction too much with the middle school students,” Hawkins notes, adding that she is concerned about the number of students in her schools who are at risk or are currently overweight.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
autumn leaves

Because I’m writing this letter in the middle of August, it’s a bit tough to imagine the fall season—crunchy leaves, cooler air and the impending sense of dread over whether this will finally be the winter when I freeze to the sidewalk.

But autumn also brings some of my favorite foods: stews, soups, squashes and apples fresh from the tree. Meanwhile, at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, K-12 diners are getting amped up about a plethora of DIY options, including a build-your-own chicken and waffles bar, says Director of Food and Nutrition Services Joe Urban. (Where was...

Industry News & Opinion
k-12

The School Nutrition Foundation —the School Nutrition Association’s philanthropic sibling—and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign have partnered to launch an initiative called Schools as Nutrition Hubs.

“No Kid Hungry really sees schools as a critical place in the fight against childhood hunger,” says Laura Hatch, director of national partnerships for No Kid Hungry. “Schools are really a no-brainer because they have the infrastructure, they have the experience, it’s a trusted place for families. And being able to maximize their programs and maximize the federal...

Managing Your Business
teamwork pack

As summer begins to fade and vacation season comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about revitalizing staffers’ connections to one another . It’s certainly no secret in the Winsight offices that I’m a bit of a social butterfly, which, in turn, means I’m a rockstar at team building. Can you spot the inter-office activity I haven’t organized from the list below?

• Breakfast Sandwich Fridays: Co-workers rotate responsibility of providing ingredients for customizable sandwiches. Mimosas may have been involved. • “Sound of Music” Soundtrack Singalong Thursdays. The majority of...

Ideas and Innovation
walk-in cooler

The walk-in cooler can serve as a gathering place for more than just produce. When temperatures rise, staff at Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta host meetings in the walk-in and make occasional trips to hang out throughout the day to beat the back-of-house heat.

FSD Resources