Newton County students are getting something at school that many do not at home, healthy foods and locally grown produce for lunch.
The district is one of only 14 in the state that began participating in the "5 Million Meals Campaign Challenge" at the beginning of this school year. Last year Georgia served 3 million meals featuring locally grown produce, and this year Newton County is working to keep its nearly 20,000 students healthy.
The campaign provides the Newton County School System information to assist in the Georgia Grown/Locally Grown program. Though the campaign is sponsored by Georgia Organics, the school system is not required to serve organically grown food.
"The cost is prohibitive for the School Nutrition Program and there are insufficient supplies of organically grown food to provide for the number of lunch meals that we serve," said Jan Loomans, Director of Operational Services for the Newton County School System.
"Because there are not a lot of local farms that can provide food for us - they don't have the amount that we need (we serve 14,000 to 15,000 lunches each day) and they do not have refrigerated trucks to deliver the food to us - we are focusing on Georgia Grown (Georgia Department of Agriculture campaign) and locally grown which would be from the three surrounding states. Next week, we will feature Pink Lady apples grown in North Georgia and green peppers and cucumbers grown in South Georgia. Our produce supplier will deliver the products to us. We will have point of sale educational posters on the serving lines at all schools on the days that we serve the Georgia Grown items."
In that plan, the schools are required to serve more whole grains (50 percent of all breads and grains served must be whole grain this school year), and elementary and middle school students are offered ¾ cup of vegetables and ½ cup of fruit daily, with high school students picking up to one cup each of fruits and vegetables.
"They [students] are encouraged to pick up two of the ½ cup servings," said Loomans in an email Friday. "All students must pick up at least ½ cup of either a fruit or a vegetable. In addition we must offer a serving of legumes (beans) each week, a serving of dark green vegetable and a serving of a red/orange vegetable each week. We can offer only skim and 1 percent milk - flavored or unflavored. We made the decision to change all of our lettuce/romaine mix in the garden/side salad and in our daily entrée salads to 100 percent romaine lettuce this school year. This offers significantly more nutrients than lettuce does. It does cost us more but we felt the increase in nutrients was important."
Although this is the first year the NCSS has participated in this program, they have been moving toward healthier lunches with serving on skim and 1 percent milks and whole grain breads as they became available.
"Because we have been changing the menus for the last three years, the changes that we made this year have not been ‘major,'" said Loomans.