HISD Program Takes Strides For Childhood Nutrition
The Houston Independent School District this month expanded a free breakfast program that officials hope will help combat childhood obesity. The program mirrors a national effort spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Michelle Obama has launched an administration wide effort to combat childhood obesity on Tuesday when she and representatives from the Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture outlined four major goals of the initiative. The goals include increasing access to healthy meals at public schools.
Houston schools are serving students a free breakfast right to the classroom door before the bell rings. The “First Class Breakfast” program started earlier this month and every week the district is adding ten more elementary and middle schools. By September, more than 130,000 students at 220 HISD schools will be eating breakfast in the classroom.
HISD Superintendent Terry Grier spearheaded the mammoth initiative after seeing success at his previous post at the San Diego School District.
“Not only did the kids enjoy and eat the breakfast when we served it to them directly in the classroom,” he said in a statement. “But their test scores improved and so did their behavior.”
At HISD, administrators have already seen improved test schools at nine schools where the program has been in place for several years.
In addition to being free, the breakfast is nutritious: no sugar-covered donuts or cereal. The kids eat whole grain bakery items made from scratch at a 220,000 square foot, state of the art facility where sodium, preservatives, and fats are kept to a minimum. The cafeteria ladies in hairnets have been replaced with dietitians, nutritionists and culinary experts in chef hats. The deep fryers are gone and in their place are high-tech machines that can pump out 30,000 whole grain biscuits in a morning. A football field sized refrigerator can store fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We consider ourselves to be a nutrition role model that other school districts around Texas and the nation should be looking at,” says Brian Giles, the General Manager of ARAMARK/HISD Food Services.
The USDA and Texas Department of Agriculture agree. Representatives from both recently toured the food service facility and ate breakfast in the classroom with students at Herrera Elementary. The results and feedback from participating HISD schools has also been positive.
Numbers already show participation is up. Previously, when breakfast was served in the cafeteria before school, only 30 percent of Herrera kids took advantage of it. Now over 80 percent of students are eating breakfast every morning.
The costs of “First Class Breakfast” are covered by the USDA’s National School Breakfast Program and with a $100,000 donation from the non-profit group DairyMAX. Congress is currently debating the “The Child Nutrition Act” to improve how food for children at school is funded, sourced, defined and prioritized. The window to change nutrition guidelines comes once every five years.