Morgan County Schools’ Nutrition Program is earning praise from state authorities, winning Georgia’s Golden Radish Award earlier this year. Morgan County was one of 75 school districts across the state honored for incorporating locally-produced and healthier menu options into schools’ cuisines.
“Georgia’s Departments of Agriculture, Education and Public Health, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and Georgia Organics came together at the historic Georgia Railroad Freight Depot to celebrate over 40 percent of Georgia school districts with outstanding farm to school programs,” said a press release from the Golden Radish board. “Seventy-five school districts, serving more than one million students in Georgia, are now participating in farm to school. These districts served more than 97 million school meals with local food items during the 2016-17 school year.”
Leaders at Morgan County Schools have worked hard to revamp schools’ menus in recent years.
“I am very proud of the accomplishments of our School Nutrition program. The focus on serving high-quality food with locally-grown options is helping to increase the participation rate of student eating in our cafeteria,” said Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of Morgan County Schools.
Each school offers different menu options and portions. A typical menu includes meat, meat alternatives, various vegetables, grains, various fruits, and milk.
According to School Nutritionist Kim Johnson, the school system put together a “Farm to School” Committee that meets every quarter to strategize the incorporation of healthy and locally-produced foods into, not only the school lunches, but into the school’s curriculum and ultimately into students’ daily lives.
“They discuss different ways to provide students with exposure to locally-grown food items, to boost awareness and ensure that healthy food options are available,” said Johnson.
The committee devised four main goals targeting cafeteria and nutrition, external and internal experiences for students, integrating farm to school into the curriculum, and crafting managed and sustained Farm to School Program in Morgan County through 2025.
According to Johnson, “The first goal is to provide students exposure to locally-grown food items to boost food awareness and ensure that healthy food options are available in Morgan County Charter Schools. The second goal is to provide students experiences with locally-grown food items through outside- and inside-the-school interactions with farmers, professionals, chefs, and volunteers to boost food awareness and nutritional choices. The third goal is to provide K-12 curriculum learning experiences to bolster Farm to School purpose, such as the use of garden spaces to teach subject area content about healthy nutrition, food economy, the inclusion of hands-on soil instruction, growing edible plants, teaching about pollinators, and connecting local farms to the local economy. The fourth goal is to create an affordable and efficient program that is well-respected and loved by students, parents, and teachers.”
Johnson hopes more parents and teachers will partner together to help promote healthy eating habits among students.
“For the school meal programs to succeed we need the entire school community,” said Johnson. “The parents can encourage their children to try the variety of fruits and vegetables available at school and by offering more variety at home. The teachers can incorporate lessons on healthy eating into practical learning in the classroom, from studying the fruits and vegetables to using the nutrition labels to calculate the totals of sugar or sodium in popular snacks. The students can participate in taste tests and let the cafeteria know what they like and don’t like.”
According to Johnson, students at Morgan County have responded well to the healthy changes now available.
“They like having choices,” said Johnson.
Enhancing the nutritional quality of school lunches does not only enhance the health of school children, but it helps them academically.
“Students who eat healthier meals perform better in school. The studies show that healthy kids get better grades, have good attendance and they behave better in class. We now know that making time for physical activity and nutrition in school is an investment in higher academic performance,” explained Johnson.