March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Looking for someone who will look out for your kid's health during the school day? Look no further than the registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). As food service directors and nutrition specialists, RDNs across the country are doing great things to ensure kids eat healthful meals at school. Although new meal standards, set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, went into effect July 1, 2012 requiring more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less sodium, school based RDNs were already employing innovative techniques (from salad and taco bars to fruit-and-yogurt parfaits) to entice kids to eat right.
Look to an RDN for Expertise
RDNs are crucial to school meal programs because they have the nutrition expertise and "vision to create a healthy food climate in the cafeteria that engages students not only in eating healthy, but in developing healthy behaviors," says Dona Richwine, MS, RDN, Nutrition Specialist for Santa Monica Malibu (Calif.) Unified School District. Debbi Beauvais, RDN, SNS, Director of School Nutrition for Gates Chili & East Rochester Schools (New York) and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concurs, "Schools are a good venue to model good eating behaviors for kids."
Healthier Menu Options
Beauvais' mission is to provide healthy menu items for the 75 percent of her students who choose the school cafeteria over brown-bagging it. But, Beauvais says, "It's not nutrition unless they eat it." Beauvais finds that students make healthier choices with her "made fresh for you" and taco bar programs. "Children tend to consume more vegetables when they can add them. They pick more variety."
Richwine agrees; for over 10 years she's been getting kids excited about produce with a farmers' market salad bar. Richwine says the favorite part of her job is to watch students walk away with their plates piled high with fruits and veggies. Schools are now also providing healthier versions of some of kids' favorites. In Beauvais' schools, chicken nuggets are baked with whole grain breading, and are lower in fat and sodium than typical restaurant versions. A healthier pizza comes with low-fat mozzarella and a whole grain crust. Leaner versions of hamburgers and hot dogs are served on whole grain buns.