Back to School: Tahoe-Truckee combating child obesity with healthy food options | SierraSun.com

Back to School: Tahoe-Truckee combating child obesity with healthy food options

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com
This illustrative photo shows the stomach of an overweight child. According to the CDC, from 1980 to 2012, the number of American children ages 6-11 considered obese increased from 7 percent to nearly 18 percent.
Courtesy Thinkstock.com | iStockphoto

Dump the junk

Below are five healthy snack options for parents and children to consider eating, rather than junk food or foods overly enriched with sugars and fats:

1: An apple or banana with nuts, nut butter or sunflower seed butter

2: Greek yogurt with fresh berries

3: Vegetable sticks with hummus

4: A hard boiled egg and piece of fruit

5: Trail Mix with dried fruits, nuts, seeds, popcorn and whole grain cereal

Source: Maria Martin

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TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Gone are the days of processed pre-packaged meals served at Tahoe Truckee Unified schools, replaced by healthier options made from scratch.

Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest guidelines, breakfasts and lunches served at all Tahoe Truckee Unified School District schools must include fruit and/or vegetables and hit reduced targets of fats, calories and sodium.

(Students) cannot go in and order a big thing of greasy nachos with extra cheese sauce that’s fake and three chocolate chip cookies,” said Kelli Twomey, coordinator of parent and community relations for the district. “They can’t do that.”

Instead, well-balanced meals such as breakfast burritos on a whole grain tortilla, tofu stir-fry and chicken tortilla soup will be offered this school year.

In addition, each school site is equipped with a salad bar that’s stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, various beans, cheese and hardboiled eggs.

This year, Meatless Mondays — in which only plant-based entrees are served every Monday — and Harvest of the Month — which allows students to taste fresh seasonal produce in the classroom — will also continue.

“I would say that we are very nutritious,” said Kat Soltanmorad, director of food services for TTUSD. “ … We are progressive in the sense that we mostly scratch cook, and we limit our processed foods.”

Since Soltanmorad took over food services in 2012, dietitian Maria Martin with Tahoe Forest Health System said she has seen significant gains in the district’s food offerings in terms of quality and variety.

A few years prior, in 2006, the Tahoe Truckee Nutrition Coalition formed with a mission to implement education and programs that promote nutrition and physical activity for children and parents in the community.

“There was general concern over the quality of meals served in the TTUSD school meal program and a consensus that we should be able to provide healthy, tasty, less-processed foods in school,” Martin explained, who is also the coordinator of the Nutrition Coalition.

This came at a time when childhood obesity in the United States was on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 1980 to 2012, American children ages 6–11 considered obese went from 7 percent to nearly 18 percent, while obesity levels in adolescents ages 12-19 went from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent, the CDC cited.

Obese youth are more likely to have health risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, prediabetes, and greater risk for bone and joint problems.

Serving as a preventative measure against childhood obesity are schools, according to the CDC.

“Schools … provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors,” the public health institute states.

Beyond health benefits, nutritional meals aid student learning by improving their attention spans, class participation and test scores, Martin said.

“It all kind of goes into our mission of pathways to possibilities and student success, and setting up a student to be successful in school by having a good meal,” Twomey said.