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Lunch Lessons: Riverdale Elementary School Promotes Healthy Eating in Cafeteria, Classrooms and After School

The school's community is supporting the healthier changes at the school and its been rewarded for its achievements.

Fifth grader BriDe' Key at Riverdale Elementary School said she started eating healthier with the revamped school menus.

“I like the meals,” said Key, 10. “Most of the stuff they serve is good.”

Like many other public schools in Prince George’s County, Riverdale Elementary School is promoting healthy eating by providing students with healthier options for breakfast and lunch.

The new federal school lunch regulations, which passed in 2010 a maximum calorie limit for elementary lunches at 650 calories. Under the old rules, cafeterias served a minimum of 825 calories per lunch. The Congress-approved calorie limits on school lunches went into effect in August.

The initiative, to make school lunches healthier and more nutritious, requires the school meals to offer less sodium, more whole grains and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million school children, who participate in the national school lunch and breakfast programs.

All Prince George's County schools currently offer fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat and fat free milk, reduced fat and reduced sodium entrees and salad plates, according to the Food and Nutrition Director for the county’s public schools, Joan Shorter.

Data from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health showed that in Maryland, 34.5 percent of children ages 10 to 13 are overweight.

The regulations, however, sparked some concerns, ABC News reported after students complained the new, lower calorie counts were not keeping them satisfied.

But the calories limits change based on the students' ages from elementary schools, middle schools and high school, Shorter said, which is why PGCPS offers three different menus for each level and abundance of choices for the students.

See what other area schools are doing to promote healthy eating by reading our Lunch Lessons series.

To make sure the students continue to make healthy choices, the school not only promotes eating healthy, but also promotes exercise.

“We talk to [students] about keeping healthy, eating right, exercising and how that all plays into them in doing better in school,” Hughes said.

Signs promoting healthy lifestyle initiatives plaster the school’s hallways. One sign states, “Treat your body right” and suggests a combination of controlling food intake and  physical activity every day and getting 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night.

The school has managed to get all its students, staff and parents take part in the programs, according to the principal. Students broadcast reminders about healthy eating on the school’s television station and the school also has a health club for the staff.

“It’s just all of us working together,” Hughes said.

To make sure the children continue their healthy habits at home, the school has organized workshops to teach the parents how to eat right.

“If the [parents] are eating right that will make sure their kids are eating right,” said Neftali Ortiz, the school’s Bilingual Parent Community Outreach assistant.

Parents were taught about healthy foods choices that encourage the brain to function better. They were given recipes that they can try at home.

“What we teach them is not to change the way they cook but to use healthier ingredients,” said Ortiz. “We have seen progress in the kids. The kids said they liked the food.”

Some intermediate students participate in a morning exercise program with the gym teachers, according to Hughes.

"Parents are supportive by allowing students to participate," she said. "We encourage the importance of finding opportunities to get exercise by going out to play."

Riverdale Elementary School is one of the 22 schools from Prince George’s County receiving national recognition from the Healthy Schools Program this year. The school and 16 others received bronze and five schools got silver for distinguishing themselves with healthy eating and physical activity programs and policies that meet or exceed stringent standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program.

“We won that bronze award because of these initiatives,” Hughes said.

Earlier this year, the school was named in the Top 10 of the Maryland Department of Education's 2012 School Breakfast Contest for showing improved academic performance, behavior and attendance for students who eat breakfast at school.

TELL US: Do you think school lunches have improved at your local schools?

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