Students returning to DODDS-Europe schools this week had a lot to digest: new teachers, new classrooms and new emphasis on healthier meal and lifestyle choices.
On Tuesday, U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling and his wife, Sue, kicked off “Fueling the Future,” a health and nutrition initiative starting at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Heidelberg. After Sue Hertling led the students through a morning exercise, the children walked or ran two laps around the football field track with the general.
“Exercise and better nutrition will make smarter and healthier kids,” Hertling said.
Noting that many children have had a parent or parents downrange, Sue Hertling said, “I think the kids should make the connection between stress management and movement.”
The “Fueling the Future” program includes using nutrition in various lesson plans, and students will have at least one activity per month. Plans include field trips to the commissary to learn about shopping for good nutrition, cooking classes by members of the military culinary arts team and physical training with soldiers.
“We hope to learn a lot from this school,” the general said regarding plans to expand the program to other schools.
Hertling said the school lunch program’s new requirement of having at least one fruit or vegetable is “a critical first step in a nationwide fight against child obesity. It all has to start with a first step.”
The Exchange School Lunch program, run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, follows regulations and nutritional guidelines set by the Department of Agriculture. Nutrition standards require meal options to meet strict limits for calories and saturated fat and must include more whole grains, less sodium and a wider variety of vegetables. AAFES said that, starting this school year, students must, for example, choose at least one serving of fruit or vegetable.
At the Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School cafeteria in Stuttgart, students can choose either a preset meal with limited options or an á la carte menu. The cafeteria meal, which is $2.40 for kindergarten through sixth-grade students and $2.55 for seventh- and eighth-graders, has a meat or vegetarian entree with fruit and vegetables on the side. On the menu Tuesday was macaroni and cheese, a chicken patty sandwich or salad as the entree, with green beans, orange slices and sweet potato crinkles as the sides.
“For the most part, the kids will throw away a lot of the food,” said Leslie Johnson, a cafeteria monitor. “Fruit and vegetables. They don’t want it.”
The à la carte choices include chicken wings, french fries and cheese sticks.
That option is “more expensive, not nutritious,” Johnson said. “Some kids will come over here and spend $5 for just a hamburger and fries. And then they have to buy a drink on top of that.”
Debbie McAuliffe, whose kindergartner and fourth-grader attend Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School, says her friends pack their children’s lunches. McAuliffe and her fourth-grade daughter, Sydney, say children don’t find the school lunches appealing. Parents are concerned about the insufficient amount of nonprocessed food, McAuliffe said. However, she plans to keep money on the school lunch accounts for emergencies.
Exchange lunch program prices remain the same as last school year. Parents can track their children’s school lunch balance, make changes and add funds at mypaymentsplus.com, or at exchanage store customer service departments.