Michelle Obama has just declared war on child obesity and Naked Chef Jamie Oliver did his best to start a healthy eating revolution in schools, but some schools in Massachusetts, particularly Somerville, started fighting years ago.
“The obesity issue started in the ’70s,” said Mary Jo McLarney, a registered dietician who has been a food service director for Somerville schools for eight years. “But now it’s mushroomed. Everybody is making changes. The most important thing to remember is that change is slow; it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Somerville schools don’t have vending machines. There are no à la carte snacks available during elementary school lunches, and high school students choose from options approved by Massachusetts Action for Healthy Kids (Mass AFHK).
“We want to get kids into the lunch line where they’ll get fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” said McLarney. As a result, fresh foods and whole grains form the crux of the Somerville schools eating program, and next year, McLarney hopes the district will eliminate trans fat.
But students are still allowed treats sometimes like strawberry shortcake. “It’s important to teach them about moderation,” said McLarney.
When Somerville shifted to healthier diets, cooks had to learn new culinary techniques so they would be able to produce more food on-site, with particular attention to using local produce in their recipes. Most of this produce comes from Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg, but some is grown right at the schools by students in an after-school program.
In recognition of these efforts, the US Department of Agriculture has presented Somerville with the HealthierUS award for the past two years. The award also acknowledges the outstanding health and physical education programs across the district. It goes to less than 1 percent of schools across America.