WOODSTOCK – To the traditional Chicagoan, replacing classic pizza toppings like sausage and pepperoni with their turkey equivalent could be regarded as a sin.
Whole grain crust? Downright unforgivable.
But in Woodstock’s School District 200, where a french fry hasn’t hit a cafeteria plate since 2006, it’s these sort of sneaky, calorie-cutting adjustments that have kids eating healthier – and have the district winning praise for its efforts.
This year, all 12 District 200 schools received certification under the United States Department of Agriculture’s HealthierU.S. School Challenge. The program challenges schools to meet certain criteria for healthy foods, and then gives award levels based on the percentage of children that eat school lunches.
Food service specialists face the challenge of making healthy food appealing.
“You can have a really healthy meal, but if no one buys it, there’s no benefit,” said Sue Malley, the district’s food service director.
Just 210 schools in Illinois have received the USDA’s distinction since the program started in 2004. Locally, only Husmann Elementary School in Crystal Lake and several elementary schools in District 300 have been certified, according to the USDA’s website.
And just four of 126 Illinois schools certified since July 1, 2012, are high schools, according to a news release from the Illinois State Board of Education. District 200 accounts for two of those four – a tougher achievement because of the expanded menu at the high school level, Malley said.
“That’s huge to get that at the high school level,” she said.
Malley said the district has been serious about improving the breakfast and lunch menu at schools for about seven years, but efforts intensified two years ago when they received a $25,500 grant to put toward wellness initiatives.
Much of the money went toward promotional and educational materials, but officials went through the process of revamping the menu during that time as well, Malley said. They were required to apply for HealthierU.S. certification after the grant period ended.
When they heard back, seven of the districts schools were certified “silver” and five were certified “bronze.”
“I think we’re doing more and more to get kids to have that healthy focus in schools, but also to embrace lifelong habits,” Superintendent Ellyn Wrzeski said. “A tremendous amount has been done in the food service area.”