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New school year brings healthier food choices for Kent students

Kent School District will continue to make changes in its school cafeterias, such as offering salad stations at the high schools and placing healthy foods in locations where students can choose them easily. - Courtesy photo
Kent School District will continue to make changes in its school cafeterias, such as offering salad stations at the high schools and placing healthy foods in locations where students can choose them easily.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For the Reporter

Students throughout Kent and King County will have more options for healthy food this school year.

From healthier choices in vending machines to more local produce in the lunch line, schools are rapidly becoming better places to nurture learning and good health.

The changes are a result of new national nutrition guidelines and local efforts by schools and Public Health – Seattle & King County in the fight against childhood obesity. About one in five students in King County are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of serious health problems in childhood and into adulthood.

"Our partnership with schools is starting to pay off with a recent drop in youth obesity for the first time in King County," said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health - Seattle & King County. "We know that access to healthy food in schools is not only critical for health, but crucial for student learning."

Healthy changes to expect this fall in Kent

• Farm to School: Through Farm to School, Kent School District is partnering with Auburn and Renton school districts to purchase large amounts of produce from local farms. This program is funded through the Community Transformation Grant (CTG and coordinated by the WA State Department of Agriculture. For more information see Kent's Farm to School webpage.

• Encouraging students to make healthier choices: Kent School District will continue to make changes in its school cafeterias, such as offering salad stations at the high schools and placing healthy foods in locations where students can choose them easily. Last school participating schools included Kent Meridian, Kentlake, Phoenix Academy, Meridian, Meeker and Mill Creek. Plans are in place to expand the program to other schools this year.

• Marketing strategies: Over the past two years, Kent Nutrition Services has worked on many new marketing strategies including working with the Kentlake DECA program to nudge students toward choosing healthier foods in the cafeteria.

About national nutrition guidelines

Starting this school year, United States Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines will be expanded to all food and beverages sold in schools including vending machines, student stores and at fundraisers.

• Vending machine and other snacks will have fat, sugar, salt, caffeine and calories limits.

• Snacks must be at least 50 percent whole-grain or have fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient.

"We are delighted with the changes coming this school year to make all foods in our schools healthier and consistent with nutrition education taught in our classrooms," said Wendy Weyer, director of Nutrition Services for Seattle Public Schools. "We know that access to healthy, nutritious food supports student learning and helps establish healthy habits for the rest of their lives."

The changes were supported, in part, by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Transformation Grant within the Affordable Care Act's Prevention and Public Health Fund. The initiative is a collaborative effort between Seattle Children's, Public Health—Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and the Healthy King County Coalition (HKCC).

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