The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

September 30, 2012

Mankato schools making healthy changes at both concession stands and cafeterias

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MANKATO —

Also, they’re experimenting with sweet potatoes, which are much more nutritious than regular potatoes. So far, between sweet potato fries and sweet potato tater tots, tots are winning out.

Putting vegetables on the menu is one thing. But as any parent knows, getting kids to eat them is quite another.

One thing schools have tried is an incentive program where kids monitor their fruit and vegetable intake. The class with the highest consumption level at the end of the year, then, receives a fruit smoothie party.

They’ve also done taste-testing in the cafeteria, giving kids fun ways to try foods — in particular vegetables — that they’ve maybe never tried before, such as broccoli or peppers. Posters near the lunch line inform students about the changes, and Gonzalez teaches a class for both parents and students about enhancing their family’s nutrition and eating habits.

The changes to the school menu — which also include dramatic reductions in sodium — are being done in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010 and updated in January. Compliance in the school cafeteria is mandatory.

Compliance at the concession stand, however, is not. That’s a step Mankato schools have taken of their own volition.

The strategy is to decrease the variety of the junk food offered — such as offering one kind of Skittles instead of three — and mixing in more healthful foods such as yogurt, trail mix and fresh fruit.

“We’re really just trying to make sure that you can go to your student’s game and get something that’s healthier for you,” Gonzalez said.

To help parents decide, they plan to install signs at the high school concession stands showing where all concession stand food rates on the Hy-Vee NuVal scoring system. All food is graded. The more healthful a snack item is, the higher its score. To encourage people to choose from that menu, those foods will be at reduced prices this year.

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