By Meg Dickens
As school starts back, parents and school officials alike are gearing up for what that entails. It is time for early mornings, catching the bus, gathering supplies and focusing on all of the little details that make up the school year. One important detail that many overlook in the hustle and bustle is nutrition. Students that are underfed or have an unhealthy diet are less likely to be able to absorb course materials. In fact, CDC studies show that students who eat well have increased academic performance, better education behavior and better cognitive skills.
The Johnson County area is below the poverty level. This qualifies the county for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program. This means that all students are offered breakfast and lunch free of charge. Johnson County has been involved with this program since 2014 when Kathy McCulloch took over as School Nutrition Director. McCulloch formerly taught Culinary Arts at Johnson County High School.
“Teaching the requirements and regulations of safety and sanitation in the classroom and carrying that into this position was a true aid,” McCulloch explained.
Johnson County Schools follow the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). These programs lay out the foundation for all school nutrition based on USDA guidelines. USDA guidelines revolve around five major food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein. Few changes have occurred in recent years other than an increase in whole grain requirements six years ago.
Meal portion requirements are distinguished by grade. Students from kindergarten to eighth grade fit into one category while ninth to twelfth grade students fit into another. The latter receives increased portions on select foods. Outside of this, students may purchase à la Carte items. According to the CDC, “These items may be an entrée or side item from a school meal (e.g., a vegetable side dish) or other items that are not part of the school meal (e.g., chips). All à la Carte foods must meet Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.”
McCulloch asks that parents encourage their children to go through the cafeteria line daily even if they have packed a lunch. This helps the county meet the criteria for CEP, which allows Johnson County Schools to continue providing free meals to all students. McCulloch is passionate about this cause and wants the public to understand just how important it is to the community. “Our goal is to feed as many students as we can each day.”
If the requirements are not met, the system will revert back to the household income based system used before 2014. CEP has been renewed for the 2018-2019 school year. Whether it continues into the 2019-2020, school year is in the public’s hands.
For more information on Johnson County nutrition or CEP, contact Kathy McCulloch at (423) 727-2657 or via email at [email protected]