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Posted at 2:03 PM ET, 07/15/2010

Fairfax schools' food program named nation’s best

By Valerie Strauss

fairfax meals.JPGFairfax County students at a "tasting party" to help plan school meals. (FCPS photo)

Good news for Fairfax County Public Schools: Its nutrition program was named best in the country by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association.

Fairfax’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, the largest child nutrition feeding program in Virginia, was recognized this week for its commitment to creating nutritious and appealing meals to kids, and for the way it has implemented nutrition education initiatives. Its professional development programs and “superior financial management" were also cited.

Peggy McConnell, the district’s Food and Nutrition Services director, accepted the award of $25,000 at the association’s annual conference, money that will be used to improve the program.

What makes Fairfax’s program so excellent?

You can go to the Fairfax food program’s Web page to see what the department does and how it operates. There's a lot of great information there for families.

During the school year, Fairfax schools serve meals to more than 140,000 customers every day. The meals are planned with help from students, who answer surveys about their favorite fruits and vegetables and attend monthly “taste parties” to identify what they like.

There’s a complete ingredient analysis, too, for almost 200 different items that are served to kids, including corn dog bites and tortilla chips with cheese sauce.

The department operates a program called “Give Me 5! Colors That Jive” that introduces students to new and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables each month (such as jicama, butternut squash and sweet potato wedges). Items are featured on the menu and in flyers on the serving line, and students enjoy the colorful trivia and activity pages provided to teachers to incorporate into classroom instruction.

Meanwhile, “Fairfax Kids Cooking” teaches students about healthy food choices and gives them the opportunity to bring home some basic cooking skills.

These nutrition education lessons culminate in the cafeteria, where nutrition information for entrees is posted right on the serving lines. With some of the strictest competitive food regulations in the country and cafeterias that offer more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, Fairfax County has earned numerous awards for nutrition integrity.

Parents can also access critical tools for talking with their children about nutritious choices through the department’s online videos and Nutrition Calculator for Healthy Snacks.

The department holds about 500 nutrition education sessions a year for teachers and reaches the broader community by conducting monthly nutrition education sessions in Head Start classes and at senior citizens centers, as well as participating in approximately 30 district health fairs a year.

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By Valerie Strauss  | July 15, 2010; 2:03 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  fairfax nutrition program, fairfax wins award, meals in fairfax schools, school meal planning, school meals, school nutrition association  
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Comments

This is so ridiculous I can't even believe it. The picture used for this article has a group of kids eating pizza, chicken nuggets and drinking chocolate milk. I was in the Fairfax county school system from k-12, and I can assure you that most kids subsisted off of pizza, nuggets french fries and chocolate milk. I doubt that much has changed in the 10 years since I was in grade school, and the photo used confirms it. What a low standard. Jaime Oliver is right, our food education is appalling, we do need a food revolution if anything is going to change. This award for FCPS sickens and insults me.

Posted by: erik_sax | July 15, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually, things are worse now. Most kids get cookies and a fruit juice drink (fruit punch with some juice in it). Twenty minutes after lunch ends, their sugar high ends and they can't stay awake in class.

Posted by: lolee6241 | July 15, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

I am puzzled by the comments of these two individuals because I worked for FCPS for almost ten years and was extremely impressed by the quality of the food served in the school cafeterias. Yes, it was school cafeteria food, but there was always a healthy approach to feeding kids. There were salad bars in every high school, which as an adult, I found appealing. Obviously, this recognition is an indication that FCPS is doing good work, and apparently these two disgruntled persons disagree, for some odd reason. Congratulations FCPS!

Posted by: franciscomillet | July 16, 2010 3:10 AM | Report abuse

Having joined my elementary-age child for lunch at a Fairfax County school on several occasions, I have to agree with the first two responders comments. The food is lousy. So bad, my child often begs to bring a lunch from home. However, given the budget most school cafeterias need to live within, this is not surprising. If Fairfax has the best school lunches in the nation, then the nation's school children are being short-changed.

Posted by: Tennessee2 | July 16, 2010 5:03 AM | Report abuse

If FCPS is the best, I'd hate to see the worst. The food at my child's elementary school was terrible. And I'm in no way disgruntled, as my child brought his lunch every day and no longer attends FCPS.
Lunch was the usual high hamburger/pizza fare and the exotic Give Me 5 offerings are things like cauliflower, bell pepper and oranges. Breakfast is prepackaged food that was high in calories and sugar, basically junk food. Wonder about behavior problems in the classroom? Look no further than the sugar content at breakfast. Here's an example breakfast: EZ Bear Breakfast on the Go”
Box includes:Cereal, Crackers or Pop Tart, Juice
or Yogurt w/Elfi n Graham Crackers
or Cereal w/ Elfi n Graham Crackers

Come on! Graham crackers for breakfast? I'd hardly call that excellent.WaPO needs to read the menu before doing a story about how great the food is in FCPS and instead do a story about how FCPS contributes to poor childhood nutrition.

Posted by: Bluejay825 | July 16, 2010 6:53 AM | Report abuse

High frutose corn syrup, enriched flour, sodium nitrate, red#4, blue #1 etc...What a joke!!!!!! Their food sources are horrible. It is laughable when you actually look at the menus. These poor children. It's no wonder why obesity is such an epidemic. Why are the adults so ignorant - oh perhaps they are in bed with the manufacturers.
I agree with the previous poster- shame on The Washington Post for doing an article on this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: MissFit | July 16, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Here's a link to the news release. If you see any similarities, let me know. http://www.schoolnutrition.org/Blog.aspx?id=14188&blogid=564&terms=fairfax+county

Posted by: Bluejay825 | July 16, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

franciscomillet--"There were salad bars in every high school, which as an adult, I found appealing." You probably have a healthy understanding of food already. Without any kind of context, kids will choose pizza and sugar every time. It's about education, not "options." The lunch ladies and administrators may indeed be doing a great job of preparing healthy choices, but the school system itself isn't set up to do more than lead the pigs to the trough. This experience will affect me my entire life, and as I discover the richness and variety of food as an adult, I look back upon my childhood with regret and pity for all the times I grabbed a square of pizza and a chocolate milk.

Posted by: erik_sax | July 16, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Hah. FCPS food is high quality? I must agree with the majority of comments here- it is terrible. I attended FCPS k-12. On a few occasions the food literally made me sick, and in high school I generally refused to eat it. The "sweet potato wedges" mentioned are simply sweet potato fries loaded with oil and fat- no more healthy than normal ones. The "salads" are in fact a few shreds of lettuce topped with a paper thin slice of tomato, and it is indeed true that students at all levels of FCPS education tend to choose a few cookies and a Caprisun for lunch rather than an actual meal.
If this is the best fare in the country, I shudder at the dilemma of our public school systems.

Posted by: IBFreud | July 16, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Hey Valerie - Did you print this nonsense before checking out the food for yourself? As one poster wrote, "if FCPS has the best, I'd hate to see the worst." Couldn't agree more. From your blog, it seems FCPS won this award not because of their food quality, but because they do a fine job with their website. Those are two VERY different animals. Good God - does ANYONE at the Washington Post do any reporting anymore?!!!!

Posted by: abcxyz2 | July 16, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I also attended FCPS k-12 and the food offered was disgusting. This was 10+ years ago. The food show in the photo above looks the same as what we were offered. My mother would let us buy lunch once a week but can remember putting the money in my piggy bank and taking lunch instead because the food was so awful. Ick...so disapointing. Nothing offered should be fried or covered in cheese. No sugary drinks should be offered (that includes chocolate milk). Get rid of all the vending machines that sell sodas, candy bars and salty snacks too!

Posted by: swim4life79 | July 16, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Flavored-milk, fake maple syrup, Crustables. This is insane. Jamie Oliver would have a stroke.
My favorite meals were in June when they had to use up their inventory. Disgusting!

Posted by: Hhold6 | July 16, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Strauss: Name this food from the FCPS lunch menu--Ingredients: Crust (Enriched wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, citric acid, baking powder [sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate], salt, dextrose, dough conditioners [wheat flour, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed and/or canola oil), L-cysteine, ascorbic acid, fungal enzyme], wheat gluten, xanthan gum, calcium propionate, potassium sorbate), Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized part skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, cellulose gum [anticaking]), Cheddar Flavored Mozzarella Cheese Substitute (Water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid, milk protein concentrate, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% of less of the following: sodium aluminum phosphate, salt, cheese blend [cheddar, blue, and semisoft cheese {Pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes}, water, whey, salt, citric acid], lactic acid, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, nutrient blend [magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin and vitamin B12], paprika annatto blend [natural extractives of annatto seeds and paprika with soybean oil, mono-, di-, and triglycerides, other flavors, tocopherol, and potassium hydroxide], romano cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], mozzarella cheese type flavor {cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate}, provolone cheese flavor {cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate, sodium glutaminate, salt, cheese flavor [maltodextrin, acacia gum, 1,2-propylene glycol, trisodium diphosphate, sodium polyphosphate], beta carotene [partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, corn oil, beta carotene, tocopherol], vitamin A palmitate), water, tomato paste (31% NTSS), Shredded Mozzarella Cheese Substitute: (Water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid, milk protein concentrate, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% less of the following: sodium aluminum phosphate, salt, lactic acid, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, romano cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, slat}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], mozzarella cheese type flavor [cheese {milk culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], provolone cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate, sodium glutaminate, salt, cheese flavor {maltodextrin, acacia gum, 1,2-propylene glycol, trisodium diphosphate, sodium polyphosphate}], nutrient blend [magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin and vitamin B12], beta carotene [partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, corn oil, beta carotene, tocopherol], vitamin A palmitate
MORE TO FOLLOW....

Posted by: acmecrafting | July 16, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

and here's the rest of the ingredient list for ONE menu (HEALTHY) menu item...water, tomato paste (31% NTSS), Shredded Mozzarella Cheese Substitute: (Water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid, milk protein concentrate, casein, modified food starch, contains 2% less of the following: sodium aluminum phosphate, salt, lactic acid, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, romano cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, slat}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], mozzarella cheese type flavor [cheese {milk culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate], provolone cheese flavor [cheese {milk, culture, rennet, salt}, milk solids, disodium phosphate, sodium glutaminate, salt, cheese flavor {maltodextrin, acacia gum, 1,2-propylene glycol, trisodium diphosphate, sodium polyphosphate}], nutrient blend [magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, riboflavin and vitamin B12], beta carotene [partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils, corn oil, beta carotene, tocopherol], vitamin A palmitate), salsa seasoning (salt, sugar, dehydrated onion and garlic, dehydrated jalapeno, pepper, citric acid, xanthan gum, spice, dehydrated cilantro, potassium sorbate), vinegar, releasing agent (water, mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 60 and lecithin, acetic acid, citric acid, potassium sorbate, propyl gallate, sodium benzoate and polydimethylsiloxane), cellulose gum.

From Wikipedia: "Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) belongs to a group of polymeric organosilicon compounds that are commonly referred to as silicones.[1] PDMS is the most widely used silicon-based organic polymer, and is particularly known for its unusual rheological (or flow) properties. Its applications range from contact lenses and medical devices to elastomers; it is present, also, in shampoos (as dimethicone makes hair shiny and slippery), caulking, lubricating oils, and heat-resistant tiles."

This ingredient list sure is great information for this family. I agree with the postings suggesting The Post reporters do a minimal amount of investigation before regurgitating someone's press releases.

Posted by: acmecrafting | July 16, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

My son just finished 5th grade at one of the county's best elementary schools. When he was in 1st and 2nd grade I used to join him for lunch on occasion. I have to agree with most of the posts here--the food is truly atrocious. I think the article here is confusing the program's well-intentioned goals, and the reality both of what is served, and what kids will eat. My biggest observation from the food served was that it was nearly all pre-packaged and highly processed.

School kitchens now are really just reheating operations. If you reheat something, that means it's already cooked and ready to serve--i.e. most prepackaged stuff. We all know that stuff has tons of salt, fat, simple carbs and highly processed sugars and flours, and preservatives.

I am sure that the schools are all pressed financially which I assume is why there are no real kitchens anymore. When I was a kid, we were served things actually cooked in the school kitchen--meatloaf, burgers, baked chicken, canned vegetables, mashed potatoes, fresh baked rolls etc. Sure, many kids skipped the canned green beans or carrots, but on the whole it was just about what your mom would cook at home. Pizza was a BIG deal on the school menu. It was mainly just "meat and potatoes" kind of food.

I think the only answers are either getting back to real kitchens, serving real food, or outsourcing the whole thing. I think of what airport food (and airplane food too) used to be like before it was all outsourced. It was real crap. And I think that's about what they serve in schools now too. One time I got a fish sandwich at my son's school and it was absolutely disgusting. Greasy, mostly breading, lots of gristle in the fish. Every fast food joint in town makes better food that than. And probably (sadly) with higher nutritional value.

Last observation from me, in line with one of the posts here, is related to the high carb content of the meals served. I am not an Adkins Diet nut, but it is clear that the biggest reason our kids (and adults) are all getting heavier is excess consumption of simple carbs like sugar, white bread, processed flours, rice and the like. That breakfast noted above is almost entirely simple carbs. The only protein would be from milk or yogurt. YIKES! I bet that breakfast is the equivalent of eating a cup of granulated sugar. And we wonder why our kids are fat!

I would have to agree with most of the sentiment here about the "analysis" in this article. I recommend that the Post seriously look at this issue, and wait until next fall and send some parents/Post reporters to have lunch with their kids. I think this kind of food is one of the root causes of the childhood obesity issue we are facing. It really boggles my mind that the Post could take a photo like the one accompanying this story and, with a straight face, print this content.

Posted by: sandico1 | July 16, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

So Fairfax proves you can feed schoolkids nutritiously. Now take it further: Under what conditions do they eat? Does the 6-foot-tall 6th grader get more to eat than his 4-foot-tall classmate? Or does the program mandate the same servings for everyone in the class? Does the kid from the rural area who got up 2 hours before class to do his chores and catch the bus get to ask for more than the kid who rolled out of bed, dressed, and ran two blocks to school at the last minute? How long do they have to go to their lockers, wash their hands, go through the line, eat, use the restroom, and get back to class? (Or, in lower grades, wash their hands, go through the line, eat, use the restroom, and go out for recess?)

I asked students when I subbed about their lunches and all above 5th grade complained that even if they liked the food there wasn't enough of it.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 16, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

The picture and the article are so dichotomous that I thought I was reading an article in "The Onion" not the WaPo. I knew that school food was bad, but I didn't think it was this bad. My children are homeschooled, so this is not our culture, but schooled children deserve better than this. This is a color picture and there is no color!

Posted by: howdydoody1 | July 16, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution/petition

Posted by: Hhold6 | July 16, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I guess the link isn't working off the WaPost. You get the idea. (I thought it was from the Onion too when I first saw it!)

Posted by: Hhold6 | July 16, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

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