Nutrition is fast becoming a priority in Hilliard City Schools. New menu items were tried in elementary buildings during the spring and are ready for all schools in late August.

Nutrition is fast becoming a priority in Hilliard City Schools. New menu items were tried in elementary buildings during the spring and are ready for all schools in late August.

Dave Wilson, food service director with Aramark Education at Bradley High School, said Asian vegetables and rice, along with whole grain breads, will appear on the menu.

The rice, he said, is half regular white and half whole grain, covered with vegetables.

Students might not realize, he said, that they are getting a whole-grain component in their food when they have lunch this year.

A yogurt parfait is another example of using half-and-half.

"For the yogurt parfait, we utilize techniques to reduce fat and sugar," said Wilson. "Instead of using just straight vanilla yogurt, we use half low-fat vanilla yogurt and half nonfat plain yogurt and mix it together so there is not as much sugar and not as much fat."

A chicken-and-noodle dish also represents a move toward "scrap cooking," according to Wilson, as nutritionists try to reduce sodium and sugar intake.

"We have also done a fruit-and-vegetable sampling program at seven elementary buildings," he said.

Wilson said he first learned about the sampling at a state conference and it stemmed from a grant that some teachers received several years ago for nutrition education.

"The way it works," he said, "we provide small, bite-size samples of fresh fruits and vegetables; the purpose is to give students what the taste is, what the flavor profile is, what the texture is -- then try to encourage them to be a little more adventurous at trying things. It is a situation where it is an example of good peer pressure, because they are surrounded by their friends trying the same thing."

At the end of the year, he said, a survey was conducted to determine if the children shared what they learned with their parents.

"One of the questions we ask, and the one I really look for results on, is, 'Did your child ask you to get something different to eat at home because of the sampling program?'" Wilson said. "The results were very positive this year. Anywhere from 22 to 51 percent of the parents that responded said, 'Yes,' their child said, 'Can we try this at home?'"

The parents were also asked whether they thought nutrition education was important. Wilson said they overwhelmingly said, "Yes."

Along with the fruits and vegetables, which are tasted monthly, a fact sheet is distributed. Wilson said the fact sheet has a few bullet points on it for the principals to distribute to the teachers for classroom discussion.

"Some of the facts can be interesting," he said.

A poster contest was held in one of the schools, according to Wilson, and facts from the fact sheet were used. Therefore, he knows the message is getting through to the students.

"Some of the things we have done regarding wellness -- we rolled out salad bars in all of the grade levels, effective this year," he said, referring to the 2008-09 school year. "It was a real hit; I know the sixth grade enjoyed it, the elementary schools loved it. It is both promoting nutrition and it is cost effective as well, because it ends up reducing paper costs and ends up resulting in less food waste."

A new elementary menu was tried at two buildings in the spring, incorporating more whole-grain bread items.

"We are going to be using whole-grain buns, whole-grain bread where possible," Wilson said.

Different hot vegetarian items will appear on the menus this year; each day, there will be at least one option. In a survey, Wilson said the hot vegetarian items got a positive response from parents.

catwogan@yahoo.com