SHIP, JCC schools see success in health food promotion

JACKSON -- From apples and cantaloupe to eggplant, squash and watermelon, students in the Jackson County Central School District are presented an array of healthy options on the lunch menu, thanks to a partnership with the local Statewide Health ...

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The cafeteria at Riverside Elementary in Jackson features Garden Heroes to encourage young students to choose healthy food options. These Garden Heroes are promoting the day’s offerings of pineapple, grapes and cucumber slices. (Submitted photo)

JACKSON - From apples and cantaloupe to eggplant, squash and watermelon, students in the Jackson County Central School District are presented an array of healthy options on the lunch menu, thanks to a partnership with the local Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).
The school district is the first in the cooperative counties of Cottonwood, Nobles and Jackson to reach out to SHIP in hopes of developing better eating habits among students through a nutritional enhancement program. SHIP provided the school district with education materials to help get students excited about eating healthy.
Cecilia Bofah, SHIP coordinator, said special programs, such as purchasing Garden Hero plush toys to display next to healthy food choices at the lunch counter, are getting kids at Riverside Elementary in Jackson excited about their fruits and vegetables.
“The kids love it, staff love it,” she said. “It just makes it easier for kids to eat whatever is cooked.” 
The school district is also participating in the Farm to School program, purchasing fresh produce from local growers when available and promoting it to students as well.
“This year, we purchased locally grown produce from Brandt Gardens, Gary Stede and local apple orchards,” said Dana Boler, food service director for JCC schools. “Whenever we offer these Farm to School products, we display signage for students to see that these items are grown locally; they think it is pretty cool that some of their lunch is grown in the same town that they live.”
The district has also added a Grab n’ Go brown bag program to encourage students to eat breakfast.
“All of our schools now have a Grab n’ Go breakfast approach where students choose their breakfast in the serving line and then go back to the classroom and eat,” Boler explained. “We have had a lot of positive feedback from changing to Grab n’ Go. Breakfast participation has increased, and student visits to the nurse’s office in the morning at the elementary schools has decreased immensely.”
Boler also noted success at the high school, saying there has been an increase in breakfast meals served because of the promotions surrounding availability and the benefits of eating breakfast.
“(We are) promoting the importance of breakfast with our student athletes and … our head cook, Craig, has been making homemade, delicious and healthy breakfast items that students are really enjoying.
“It is so import ant that students begin their day with a nutritious meal,” Boler added. “I am very thankful for all of the great food service staff we have in the district. They truly are passionate about serving these nutritious meals to students.”
SHIP has also provided the school district with goodies, such as stickers that say “I Tried It” or “Eat Local” that are distributed on “Try Days” and prizes that are awarded during fun contests throughout the year.
Bofah is hoping the success of the nutrition programs at Jackson County Central School District will carry over to other schools as well.
For JCC, the idea was staff driven and new ideas continue to be generated. One of their new projects is to develop a garden at the school so students can eat some of the produce they grow.
“If your school is ready for change, then we will come in and help,” Bofah said, encouraging school districts to contact her for information and assistance.
“Our goal is to get this in all of the elementary schools (in the three counties),” she added.
Bofah said students at Prairie Elementary in Worthington could benefit from the program. There, some students are eating lunch as early as 10 a.m.
“The kids are eating so early that they’re hungry by the time they get home,” she said, adding that she hopes to work with the school on a possible Grab n’ Go program in the afternoon that may offer healthy snacks.
To learn more about the program at JCC Schools, visit its Facebook page, Jackson County Central Dining Services. Information about programming offered through SHIP can be obtained by contacting Bofah at Nobles County Community Services-Public Health, 295-5389.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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