A couple of weeks back I posted pics from my Oxford Elementary cafeteria lunch visit with Sunny Young, program director of Good Food for Oxford Schools (GFOS). Today, Sunny offers additional insights into the program that is working hard to bring healthier options to Oxford schoolchildren. Check out what she has to say about this program that has the Oxford school district ahead of so many others.
Sunny Young: Good Food for Oxford Schools (GFOS) is an initiative of the Oxford School District to improve cafeteria menus and simultaneously educate students and their families. We are bringing local foods onto lunch trays, doing more cooking from scratch, and serving much more fresh foods.
We work with teachers in the district to implement school gardens to get students the hands-on experience with their food that is currently missing from many of their lives, and bring farmers into the cafeteria and classroom as well. This allows students to make connections with their food which gets them eating better.
We also reach out to the community via cooking classes for families and events, such as our annual Gospel Choir Showcase.
When was the program started, and why?
The district started GFOS in January of 2013 when we received a planning grant from the USDA Farm to School program. The idea for GFOS came from the district’s Food Services director, Richmond Smith, who wanted to make these improvements and reach students through Farm to School.
We are all aware of the dangerous statistics facing our children in Mississippi, such as a 30% overweight/obese rate (the highest in the country), or the CDC now saying that this generation of children may die at a younger age than their parents. Something drastic must happen to reverse these problems. GFOS is starting that drastic change, led by Mr. Smith, myself, intern Lauren Williams, and the GFOS advisory committee made up of farmers, chefs, the school board president, pediatricians, parents, and community leaders.
How have children and parents responded to the program?
The response has been fabulous… We are all about making good food exciting and not bashing bad foods, and that has kept a very positive image around this project. Parents have come out to volunteer at our events, and students are changing eating habits at home. The response is better than I ever could have asked for, and I am so grateful to have all of this support in Oxford!
How often is local food introduced to school lunches and how are children encouraged to try it?
Our menus have been gradually changing since January 2013. As often as we are able, we do taste testings with the students and hand out samples. We’ve been holding a Harvest of the Month featuring a local food each month (like the strawberries last month). This is a great way to talk about the importance of eating locally. When we can afford it, we give samples of the Harvest of the Month to all students (whether they get a school lunch or bring one from home), but we really need more students eating cafeteria lunches more regularly to keep this program running.
What has been your biggest challenge?
There have been many challenges along the way—but even more successes. I would say our biggest challenge has been getting the word out to parents that the meals are changing. They are different and delicious! We have a really good new stir fry that is made from scratch, a new chicken pot pie, and even a salad bar at the high school! We need students giving these meals a try, and parents are always welcome to come see/eat for themselves as well.
We have been able to achieve so much in the past year and will be producing an annual report soon to show the community just how much we have been able to do. We have gone from a 30% cooked-from-scratch menu to 75%, fresh fruit available at schools every day, a local feature on monthly menus, and gardens at four of the six schools.
Some of our future goals that will happen are: even more food cooked-from-scratch (including trying out some new menus), a salad bar for every school, a garden for every school, and an increase of our classroom and community outreach, including more cooking classes for families and events for students.
The future holds so much promise. It’s really up to you! We want to hear from the Oxford School District community about what changes you would like to see, and what would get your kids eating school lunches.
(Photos provided by Sunny Young)