Schools awarded for healthy lunches

OKEECHOBEE – On April 2 Okeechobee County Schools superintendent Ken Kenworthy announced that all five Okeechobee elementary schools have earned HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) designations.

The HealthierUS School Challenge, a joint effort with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a voluntary certification initiative that recognizes and rewards schools that promote nutrition education, physical activity and healthy school environments.

Schools can apply for four different levels of designation that last for four years, bronze, silver, gold and the gold award of distinction. Awarded schools receive up to $2,000 to enhance the school food service program. Central Elementary, Everglades Elementary, North Elementary, Seminole Elementary and South Elementary were all awarded the Bronze HUSSC designation.

“This award demonstrates the dedicated work of our food service staff,” said Mr. Kenworthy.
Schools may use their awards for various initiatives, including, the purchase of equipment, health and nutrition books, nutrition-related posters, or make to improvements in the kitchen to support food service operations.

Schools receiving a HUSSC award commit to meeting certain criteria throughout their 4-year certification period. Some of the criteria the elementary schools will have to meet and maintain include serving reimbursable meals that reflect good menu planning principles, such as serving a variety of healthier foods that look good, taste good, and appeal to the cultural sensitivities of the school and community populations. Also, schools must plan meals that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; that include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

Okeechobee school district’s food service supervisor, Lisa Bell, explained what small things schools can do to promote healthier eating habits.

“By moving fruit and juice choices to the front of the lunch line,” Mrs. Bell said, “students are more apt to pick it up. By implementing these techniques, students make healthier choices without even thinking about it.”

2018 is the final year that schools can be awarded through the HUSSC Program, as the USDA has decided to shutter the program starting this July.

A post on USDA’s website stated that as part of USDA’s commitment to ensure that all their programs are delivered efficiently and effectively, and to avoid duplicating the efforts of the private sector, the

USDA Food and Nutrition Service will no longer be accepting applications for the HealthierUS School Challenge.

The USDA has stated that they recognize the value the award program has had to their stakeholders and is committed to maintaining the program through the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
The closing of the program will not affect the awards that Okeechobee schools are scheduled to receive to enhance their food service program.

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