Waterford kids find out good nutrition’s not so hard to swallow

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There they were on this bed of crispy greens along with a cucumber slice and a carrot — a half-dozen tiny, beige orbs.

An obviously suspicious Abby Graham scrunched up her face, sliding one between her teeth. The 5-year-old chewed slowly, then grinned.

“It’s okay,” she said, reaching for another.

Chalk up another win for the garbanzo bean.

Such unconventional menu items at the Waterford Village Elementary School drew a visit today by Audrey Rowe, deputy administrator for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Nutrition Programs.

Rowe came to push the Obama administration’s efforts at a $10 billion bill that would boost the Child Nutrition Act, increasing the number of kids who receive meals, upgrading school kitchen equipment, training school staff, and helping schools add fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and fat free dairy products to their menus.

At Waterford, they’ve begun those efforts, in part, by a $15,000 grant from Hidden Valley, which produces dressing. Now basil and tomato plants are commonplace in Waterford’s hallways, and four student-grown vegetable gardens supplement the cafeteria menu.

Already, the results are surprising, said Principal Steve Garrison.

Students have been introduced to foods they might not otherwise see — kohlrabi and arugula, for example. And the veggie pizza? “A huge, huge hit,” Garrison said.

In heels and suits, Rowe and other Department of Agriculture staff squished through the muddy schoolyard to look at the sprout-filled gardens, and dropped by the cafeteria, where they chatted with students over whole-wheat pasta and a salad with garbanzo beans.

“Your school rocks,” Rowe told a table of fourth- and fifth-graders before breaking into jumping jacks with them.

Visits like these, she said later, underscore the importance of expanding and reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act. Congressional hearings feature nutrition experts and statistics, but only in a school cafeteria can you see that boosting nutrition may not be as difficult as it sounds, she said.

“It takes hold and becomes part of the school’s health DNA,” she said.

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