Hilltop’s Ellie Shinhearl Promotes School Lunch

“Pick up any no-name magazine in the grocery store and you’ll see an article targeting childhood obesity,” said Hilltop Cafeteria Manager Ellie Shinhearl. “From ‘How to get kids to eat more vegetables’ to  ‘How to get kids to eat dark green veggies,’ the articles focus on retraining eating habits learned young. Here in the Hilltop cafeteria we are taking a positive approach toward the school lunch changes and being on the forefront of educating proper eating habits to last a lifetime!”

For the first time in 15 years the USDA has changed the school lunch pattern. All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to meet the guidelines set forth in the Food-Based Menu Planning approach.

“I believe the USDA changed the school lunch program because obesity in our nation is growing at an alarming rate,” Shinhearl said. “This is the first generation that is not predicted to outlive their parents and the main contributing factor to that is obesity. Where does the USDA go to start slowing that trend? I believe they are starting in the right place by changing the way we do school lunch.”

Shinhearl pointed out that Hilltop alone serves over 2,500 meals in one week and from kindergarten through high school graduation students will have had the opportunity to eat 2,340 lunches. “That is a big chunk of a child’s life,” she said. “Not only that but lunch and the cafeteria are an extension of the classroom. Learning about proper nutrition and starting life with healthy eating habits benefits you the rest of your life. We all want kids to be successful adults but we need them to be healthy when they get there.”

The new National School Lunch meal pattern follows the USDA’s redesign of the food pyramid called MYPLATE. “When you go to choosemyplate.gov and read what is suggested for a person’s diet you will understand the school lunch pattern,” Shinhearl said. “I have discovered after looking closely at both MYPLATE and the school lunch that school lunch basically mirrors MYPLATE.”

In the MYPLATE model, fruits and vegetables account for approximately half of the plate. Fruit offerings remain basically unchanged and can be canned in juice or light syrup, dried, fresh or frozen. Serving size for fruits has changed to ½ cup for grades K-8 and 1 cup for 9-12. Vegetables are offered out of 5 different groups: Dark green, red/orange, legumes, starchy and other. Serving size for vegetables is ¾ cup for K-8 and 1 cup for 9-12. Fruit and vegetable amounts given are daily amounts.

Also increased were the requirements for whole grains in the school menus. This year 50% of the week’s offerings must be whole grain rich. Schools are also required to meet both minimum and maximum calorie guidelines as well as minimum and maximums for saturated fats and for serving 0 transfats.

“I’m trying to introduce some new foods gradually and to have some fun while we’re doing it,” Shinhearl said. “Today (Wednesday, September 19) we had a “Sweet Things Tater Tot Testing” where we let the kids sample sweet potato tater tots. Sweet potatoes are part of the red/red-orange vegetable group and letting kids give their input sometimes helps ease the introduction of new foods to the menu. We might hear, ‘This is gross!’ or ‘These are nasty!’ but we also heard some, ‘These are the best thing ever! When can we have them again?’ Since some of these offerings are more expensive than our traditional items the tastings can also help us to see if the participation is going to offset the cost of the item or if most of that item is going to end up in the trash.”

Upcoming events highlighting school lunch include: National School Lunch Day on October 17th. Parents will be invited to come to school and eat lunch with their children. On October 24th Shinhearl has a big lunch promotional day planned. Hilltop 4th graders did a writing assignment about lunch. They then chose a menu of buffalo wings, salad with Olive Garden dressing, cheese bread sticks and a Granny Smith apple. Shinhearl is working on getting as many of the items donated as she can to keep the cost to the school low. The 4th grade will also do an art lesson where their goal is to create a flyer promoting the special day. Flyers might contain the day’s menu and could then be used as an advertising piece for the day’s events. Shinhearl has WLZZ radio station lined up to come help promote school lunch (if she can secure donations to pay for the remote broadcast.) Gordon Food Service will also be there to do what they can to help with the day.

November 20th will be another Tailgate Party with members of the school board grilling whatever Shinhearl has planned for the meal. (She hasn’t decided for sure what the meal will be at this time.) She said that she would be supplying peanut butter to the Life Skills class to make Buckeyes. “We’ll have clips from past OSU vs. Michigan games playing on the TVs and everyone will be wearing their colors that day,” Shinhearl said. “We’ll be having a U of M fan drawing and an OSU fan drawing. It will just be a fun day!”

“We’re doing a lot of things throughout the year to promote school lunch,” Shinhearl said. “We’re trying to pull everyone in and get the kids involved wherever we can.”

Shinhearl pointed out that most kids are more willing to try something if they help make it or plan it. “Students are offered a specified amount of each item every day. If they deny an item, not only do they not get all the nutrition they need, they also get hungry much quicker,” Shinhearl said. “One of the chief complaints I hear from parents is, ‘My kid is just starved when he gets home. He must not be getting enough at lunch.’ I tell them they need to understand that we start serving lunch at 10:39 in the morning and we finish at 12:05. By the time the kids get home they should be getting hungry and if they have ball practice after school besides, well, they have a right to feel starved. Every high school student is offered a cup of vegetables and a cup of fruit at every meal and that doesn’t include the main dish, bread or milk.”

Shinhearl is passionate about teaching the students of Hilltop good eating habits. “It’s the American way. You get together; you eat,” she said. “It needs to be ‘everything in moderation.’ You can have sweets but it doesn’t need to be at every meal. We can see on the outside what happens when we overindulge but what we can’t see is what it’s doing to our insides and how it’s destroying our health.”

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