Reinventing the school lunch

MENU FOR CHANGE: Misty Miller with her children, Phoebe and Liam, in the Hall Fletcher Elementary cafeteria. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Misty Miller wants your children to eat better.

The parent and PTO vice president at Hall Fletcher Elementary has been working since November 2013 with Brian Good, owner and chef at Asheville Sandwich Co., to form a Nutrition Steering Committee in cooperation with Asheville City Schools that would promote healthier, more nutritious and tastier foods for students in the district.

“My son, Liam, who is in third grade, came into third grade a struggling reader, so writing was certainly not his forte,” Miller told Xpress. “One of the first weeks of school, his teacher asked him to write a letter to anyone he wanted to. He wrote to our principal [Gordon Grant]: ‘Dear Ph.d Grant, I would like to know if we could get healthier food in the lunchroom’ and then proceeded to say why he wanted healthier food in the lunchroom, not for himself, because we pack lunches, but for his friends who eat lunch in the lunch room and have a hard time learning after lunch.

“When I got that, I realized that this was my 9-year-old’s way of advocating for his friends, and it really spoke to me.”

A lunch recently served in the Hall Fletcher Elementary cafeteria. Photo by Cindy Kunst
A lunch recently served in the Hall Fletcher Elementary cafeteria. Photo by Cindy Kunst

The ACS Nutrition Steering Committee, composed of parents from Asheville City Schools, dietitians, local chefs and Beth Palien, nutrition director for ACS, proposes sourcing 90 percent of fruits and vegetables locally, hiring professionally trained kitchen staff, and serving foods with no artificial colors, sweeteners or flavors and other health-conscious goals within federal guidelines.

The principles of the committee state that “better nutrition leads to better academic achievement and will play a role in closing the achievement gap” and that “good nutritional choices being modeled at school will foster lifelong healthy habits.”

Miller presented the plan to the Asheville City school board on June 2 for the second time with a mostly positive reception, but it was not voted into action. The school board will present suggestions for changes to the committee structure, guidelines and goals before putting the proposal to an official vote sometime in the near future.

“They do seem supportive, and that is encouraging to me,” Miller said. “But I very much would like immediate approval, obviously. Our committee is counting on it. … The people putting work into this committee … believe in what school nutrition means for so many of the children in our community.”

“It’s more of a technicality,” board member Leah Ferguson said after the presentation. “We are moving forward with this. There’s not going to be a point where anyone is going to say ‘Oh, yeah, we’re just kidding.'”

Immediate objectives of the committee include surveying families not participating in school lunch programs to find out why, making changes to current menus to reflect a movement toward fresh, nonprocessed foods and “remerchandising” lunch rooms in a way that would make healthier food choices more available and easier to see.

Board members say they don’t expect it to take another month for Miller to gain full approval.

About Jesse Farthing
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