Healthier options

Camas School District receives national award for nutrition and exercise program

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Students make selections from the vegetable and fruit bar at Helen Baller Elementary School. The Camas School District won a national award for its nutrition program.

Say the words, “school lunch,” and for many, it conjures up memories of mystery meat, green hotdogs, limp lettuce leaves and dry Salisbury steak.

But things have changed, especially in the Camas School District.

Nowadays, students from elementary school on up are offered fresh vegetables, burgers, sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, and more.

The commons area at Camas High School resembles a mall food court, but with healthy options.

Recently, the Camas School District was honored as the first in Washington state to receive the Healthier US School Challenge award.

The award, given by the United States Department of Agriculture, honors schools for improving the quality of food served, providing students with more nutritious, healthy choices, and enhancing students’ physical activity.

“The Camas School District is very honored to be the first in Washington to receive the Healthier US Challenge Award,” Superintendent Mike Nerland said. “The award acknowledges the time, hard work and effort put in by many staff, parents, community members and students.”

Nerland also made mention of the district’s Nutrition and Fitness Policy, passed by the School Board in 2005.

“From the work that was done by the district committee who crafted the recommendations…to the work that continues still today by the School Health Advisory Committee, [all] are crucial components in guiding and implementing the Nutrition and Fitness Policy.”

The committee is made up of parents, community members, staff and students, who meet monthly.

“In addition, the work done by Food Services Director Sarah Winans and our kitchen and lunchroom staff who provide our students with appetizing, nutritious meals every day…is truly amazing.”

Winans said the challenge received publicity recently due to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move,” initiative, which encourages wellness in public schools.

“We really try to focus on serving the kids bright colored fruits, more entree salads, a variety of vegetables and whole grains, in addition to nutrition education and a physical education component (as part of the award),” Winans said.

She applied for the award in March, and learned that Camas had won late last month.

“It was pretty exciting, especially since we are the first school in Washington state to win and we are proud of that,” Winans said.

Each elementary school in Camas will receive $500 in its food service account, as well as a banner and plaque.

Winans is not sure what the $500 will be used for, but plans to work with the principals to determine its best use. “It will definitely be something to promote wellness,” she said.

The lasting impact in the fight against childhood obesity is a true reward, added Nerland.

“I think educating our students about the value of nutrition and fitness, and the health risks associated with a poor diet, is something we didn’t see as much 10 or 15 years ago,” he said. “The special events provided by Sarah and her staff, such as the fine dining events at our elementary schools, featuring new types of fruits and vegetables in the lunchroom, and Kids Can Cook program, are innovative and promote health and nutrition.”