Nutrition Managers take on childhood obesity

Will Peebles

Georgia Southern University hosted Nutrition Managers from K-12 schools all across the state this past week in an effort to promote healthy, creative recipes for school dining.

Culinary Institute II is a 32-hour training course developed by the Georgia Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program. The program aims to promote the farm-to-table process in Georgia’s K-12 schools, thus providing healthier options for school breakfast and lunch.

“The goal is to help educate the managers on healthy nutrition topics. We talk about diabetes, we talk about allergies, special needs children and their diets. It’s very broad. We also provide training on how to teach their own employees what they’ve learned,” Becky Larson, event director, said.

The 28 attending Nutrition Managers were given tips and recipes by local and university culinary officials. The instructors of Culinary Institute II focused on the importance of replacing breakfasts and lunches that feature food high in fat and salt. Dishes that consisted of meat flavored with herbs and spices and foods like fruits and vegetables were encouraged.

“We focus on the farm to table, so we only used local foods. Georgia has always been on the forefront of farm to table school meals. Nationally, it isn’t widespread, but it’s growing tremendously,” Larson said.

Popular healthy recipes such as kale slaw, vegetarian collard greens and sesame carrot salads were prepared by teams of Nutrition Managers. Local farmers from Lee Family Farms and Walker Organic Farm provided all the produce for the event, encouraging the farm-to-table approach for public schools.

“We have five elementary schools here in town that I and a couple of other professors work with. They have a garden in the school, and that can be a great place for the farm-to-table process to begin,” Larson said.

The percentage of obese and overweight children in Georgia schools has fluctuated in the past decade. The Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, a project of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, conducts a study every four years to keep up with the trends of obesity in the state.

In 2007 Georgia’s obesity percentage in 10-17 year olds was 21.3 percent — the second highest in the country. Mississippi had the highest with obesity levels reaching 21.9 percent in 10-17 year olds.

Efforts from the School Nutrition Program like Culinary Institute II have reduced these numbers rapidly, and the most recent survey shows a 5.4 percent decrease in the number of obese children in the state. The fight for healthier lifestyles is not yet over; the percentage of overweight children in Georgia saw a 2.5 percent increase from 2007 to 2011.