BIG BAY - For many people, the thought of school lunch brings back memories of mystery meat. But at the close-knit Powell Township School, a new approach to school nutrition has been taken.
A few years ago, the district's school board decided breakfast should be available to all students, should they choose to take it. Since then, the school has been self-funding a breakfast program, Superintendent Sam Oslund said.
Then, about two years ago, a conscious choice was made to steer the lunch program in a healthier direction, he said.
Powell Township Schools Superintendent Sam Oslund sits and talks with kindergarteners, from left, Kyler Young, Nicholas Rader and Quincy Scheidt, while they enjoy breakfast before the start of the school day recently. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)
The program switched to whole grains across the board, including bread, pasta and pizza crust. Students are offered a choice of four fruits everyday, one of which is always fresh. A stocked, salad bar with fresh greens, produce and low-fat dressings is always available to students at lunchtime.
But what students aren't eating in the lunchroom is white bread, white pasta, fried foods or sugar-laden desserts. Slowly, sugary cereals are being withdrawn from the breakfast program and chocolate milk has been removed as a breakfast option. Processed foods are kept to a minimum.
The food at Powell Township is made by one person, Shelly Beaudry, in a single kitchen. There is no central kitchen or transporting of meals. Everyday, the food is cooked fresh.
And the students find the program appealing; almost all of them eat a school lunch everyday.
Although some of the healthy swaps haven't met with universal approval, Beaudry said the salad bar and the fruit are typically popular. When students want seconds, they are instructed to go to the salad bar first, she said
"I feel good about the fact that we're offering healthy choices here," Oslund said, adding that having an enrollment of 53 students - pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade all housed in one building - helps to make the programs workable.
Although she hasn't experienced other lunch programs to compare, sixth-grader Deni Peterson said she likes the options the salad bar offers.
"I know that if I don't like something at lunch, I can always go to the salad bar and get peaches," she said.
Beaudry noted that after students leave Powell Township for high school, they often return to tell her how much they miss the lunch program.
"I always tell them they can always come back and have lunch," she said.
But there is an important, second component that contributes to the wellness of students at the school in Big Bay. Every morning, rain or shine or snow, the students head outside for a bit of exercise to begin their day.
Students in first- through fourth-grade walk a half a mile and the older students, in grades five through eight, walk a full mile. Only extremely low temperatures keep them from going outside.
A few years ago, the idea came from some very health-conscious teachers because at the time there was no physical education program, Oslund said. Since it has begun, it has created an opportunity not only for students to exercise, but also to communicate with their teachers.
"I just see that as a real opportunity for the kids to get started in the morning," Oslund said. "We just feel that it's an enhancer to the instructional time because it gets their minds and bodies active in the morning ... and it's an opportunity for kids to communicate with adults in an entirely different atmosphere."
The students say they appreciate the daily morning walk.
"I really like walking everyday because it wakes you up in the morning," sixth-grader Bethany Wright said.
Peterson said she can also see the benefit in the classroom.
"When you get into the class, you don't have as much energy so you can concentrate more," she said.
While it may be difficult to measure with any certainty the affect these healthier choices have on students, Oslund said he whole-heartily believes in the programs. He points out the young children who are already making good choices about food.
"We've got 4- and 5-year-olds going to the salad bar and getting their own things," he said. "So I truly do believe that has an impact on them."
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.