Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Growing Healthy Kids in New Haven

Today was a great day in New Haven and America! We celebrated the roll out of 33 salad bars in New Haven and because of the commitment of Whole Foods Market and Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools there are now 1,000 salad bars in schools with the goal of 6,000 by 2013.

As I was surrounded by our school children this morning in the school garden at Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet School I was able to speak enthusiastically about just how great these salad bars in our schools will be. The students That joined me at the podium also offered their support for the salad bars. Smiling face on kids when we talk about fresh veggies is priceless.

The speakers at the media event were great, Ken Meyers from Whole Foods raved about how beautiful our school garden and thanked us for our commitment to feeding our children good foods. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro was energetic as always and praised us all for the work that we do, and our Superintendent of Schools Dr. Reginald Mayo spoke about the real potential salad bars bring to schools…healthy kids ready to learn!  Most importantly for me today was the kids, our students love to show off their garden knowledge and skills to any and everyone. They were digging potatoes to show off to the Congresswoman and they were giving garden tours to anyone who asked. Their enthusiasm for fresh vegetables is second to none.

Dr. Judy Palfrey, Executive Director of Let’s Move! offered these words of encouragement through an email letter: "Due to the hard work of these leaders, 1000 schools have salad bars that did not have them this time last year. That means thousands of kids are making salads with vegetables and fruits everyday. Studies show that salad bars in schools increase vegetable and fruit consumption which is critical for improving the health of kids. I applaud the work that this coalition is doing and look forward to many more salad bars in schools in the year ahead."

Following the media event we joined the students for lunch in the cafeteria and encouraged the children to "Make a Rainbow" of vegetables on their plate. The words of encouragement were quickly drowned out by the excitement of the children to dig into the Brown Rice Salad, loaded with black beans, carrots, spinach, red and yellow peppers that joined the more traditional salad bar offerings of salad mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and green peppers. Kids getting excited about fresh vegetables and cold brown rice salad...this is good stuff!

Despite the claims from other that salad bars are unhealthy and not safe for children to dine at; I disagree. Schools are educational environments, naturally a place to teach children how to eat at a salad bar safely and sanitary. Now is the time to educate our children and continue to increase access to real foods.

Our salad bar program is designed to be user friendly and simple, but simple does not mean boring or lack of nutritious items. Traditional salad bar offerings of romaine salad mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and green peppers will be the staples. They will be joined on a rotating basis by roasted broccoli salad, baby spinach, black bean & tomato salad, roasted sweet potato & black bean salad, garbanzo bean salad, quinoa salad and various other heathful choices. The salad bar will also allow us to turn a plain taco day into a more exciting day by offering many fresh vegetable toppings. The only offerings we will not have on the salad bar will be fruit, pasta salads and mayonnaise based salads. While these items still may be nutritious we want to encouraged the children to increase their palate by eating vegetables in a more natural state.

Thank you to the generous support of Whole Foods, Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, United Fresh Produce Association, National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance and the Lunch Box for your commitment to the students in New Haven Public Schools!

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