HOULTON, Maine — For the past few years, SAD 29 has taken steps to assure that its students have had healthful school lunches prepared with fresh, local ingredients that are heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on fat.
The success of the program has opened the door for the district to get grant money to unveil other healthful food-related programs.
So far, a program that was pushed forward last fall by grant money earned through a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative is a rousing success.
Lynn Brown, the school health coordinator for SAD 29, said late last week that students and the staff who work with them are eating fresh fruits and vegetables at a midmorning snack two or three times a week. All of it is funded by the more than $16,000 grant for Houlton Southside School and the more than $12,000 grant for Houlton Junior-Senior High School.
“The students love it,” Brown said. “They are hungry around 10 a.m. each day, and we know they are getting something healthy because we are feeding them these fruits and vegetables. We know that most don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. We only serve fresh, not frozen, fruits and veggies, and this has been a tremendous success since we first started it after harvest break.”
Brown said the program is administered by the Maine Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Services program. Two other Aroostook County schools — in Woodland and New Sweden — also received the grant money.
Brown said students seem to be more fond of the fruits and they have tried a wide variety.
“They have tried passion fruits, and we were really surprised that they loved the pomegranates and also fruit such as kiwi and star fruit,” she said.
The students have enjoyed such vegetables as cucumbers, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes. A low-fat dip is offered with the vegetables.
Brown said the school purchases single-serving vegetables and fruit snacks to minimize preparation time.
“It has gone so well, and we are very hopeful that we can get this grant again next year,” said Brown.
The district, made up of Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello, has taken many steps to ensure its students learn healthful lifestyle habits.
Several years ago, the menu was revamped to replace less healthful foods, such as chicken nuggets, with more healthful foods, such as skinless chicken breasts, and add a variety of fruits and vegetables. A fitness center opened at Houlton High School in 2007, and numerous pupils at the Southside School take part in a walking program.
The district also has instituted a “smokeless Saturdays” program for underage students who have been summoned for tobacco violations.
The district uses locally grown food in its meals whenever possible.