2007-09-21 / Schools

School district promotes healthy food for students

Parents can order pre-approved treats
By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

About 20 percent of Ventura County children are overweight or obese, according to information released by the county health department in 2007. Food-borne illnesses, dental decay and food allergies are also significant problems among school-age youngsters, said Moorpark school officials.

In an attempt to reverse those trends and in compliance with a law requiring all school districts to have a student wellness policy, Moorpark Unified School District's Wellness Committee has created new guidelines for food offered and consumed at school. The new rules discourage junk food in the classroom and limit class parties to one per month.

"We're trying to support parents in their effort to provide better nutrition for their children," said Susan Van Ouwerkerk, health services specialist for the school district and Wellness Committee member.

A team of administrators, parents, teachers, nurses and a dietician make up the committee.

Children will have healthier choices at classroom parties and other school events where food is served, said Ouwerkerk. Except for fruits and vegetables, the food must be prepackaged and comply with new nutritional guidelines.

The district is providing an easy way to help parents and teachers follow those guidelines.

For a nominal fee and 10 days' notice, preapproved treats can be ordered through the district's Child Nutrition Services at (805) 531-6419.

The items include healthy birthday cupcakes, animal crackers, fruit baskets, string cheese, goldfish crackers and sherbet cups.

Parents and teachers are also encouraged to organize parties that don't include food. Events could feature games, music and movies, with practical treats like pencils and school materials, Ouwerkerk said.

In addition to requiring nutrition education and the serving of healthier food at school, the wellness program also mandates that students spend a minimum amount of time in physical education programs.

Students in grades one through six must spend about 100 minutes on physical education activities each week. Students in grades seven through 10 must have 200 minutes per week.

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