Support for Nutritious Meals and a Healthful Environment for Children

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There is no greater calling than to be able to teach children to live a healthier life.

I have the privilege of serving as the 2017-18 president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For 100 years, the Academy has honored our founders’ vision by working throughout food and health systems. As they evolve, these systems become more global and complex, creating opportunities for innovation and collaboration.

I am proud to say I am the first school nutrition director to serve as president of our Academy. In my “day job,” I am the Director of the School Nutrition Program for Burke County Public Schools, a rural district in Georgia. We are right there on the front lines, creating a nutritious and healthful environment for children, especially in schools. In particular, we are successfully implementing the great changes that came with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

That’s why I’m glad to be involved with the #HealthiestSchools initiative, a movement that supports a healthy school environment for all children. Let me give you just a couple of real-world examples of how we are changing school meals — and how these changes are having an impact on families and the health and economy of our whole county.

We serve school breakfast to more than 76 percent of our district’s students, either as breakfast in the classroom or grab-and-go in our schools. We serve culturally appropriate lunches to more than 89 percent of our students every day. Best of all — our kids are not only picking up the food, but they are eating it!

The children in my county eat more than 65 different fruits and vegetables. Literally a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day — from fresh apricots to fresh zucchini with mangos and star fruit in between.

Children are learning to eat entrée salads every day and are enjoying new meatless meals like hummus and veggie burgers. We have children who are growing up eating whole-wheat bread and actually prefer it to white bread.

Our Farm to School program has exploded and has had a huge impact not only in our lunch room, where we have been able to double the fruit and vegetable intake by students, but also in our ability to help our local farmers and lower our carbon footprint. This has improved the taste of our school food and inspired us to start the county’s first-ever weekly farmers market using the farmers who grow food for our schools.

Our Summer Feeding Program sends 15 buses across each of Burke County’s 836 square miles, bringing healthy lunches to our students. Supper programs are helping to increase graduation rates, as children are able to stay after school for the necessary tutoring they need.

Our student-athletes are no longer struggling through practice because they are getting the after-school snacks and suppers they need to fuel them through training.

As a parent, grandparent, taxpayer and registered dietitian nutritionist, I could not be happier to see what we are doing for children. Nutrition and health for kids is a nonpartisan issue, and one that all of us can get behind and celebrate. 

Now is our chance to help mold a future for our children that will endure for their lifetimes. Healthier children make a healthier nation!

Donna Martin

Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, is the director of the Burke County school nutrition program in Georgia and the 2017-18 president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.