Childhood Obesity Month: Chartwells helps students get healthy
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and food service companies around the country are trying to educate students to make better choices.
“We help students identify healthful meal choices through signage and activities ... that take place in the cafeteria,” said Brian Reynolds, Chartwells foodservice director at Wilton Public Schools. “School meals are well balanced, convenient and remain a great value for busy families. Our programs are based on strong nutritional guidelines, principles and cooking techniques using fresh, local and seasonal fruits and vegetables that are appealing to children.”
Currently, Wilton High School is featuring local produce during its farm-to-chef week, which puts ingredients from both student-grown gardens and those in the community into recipes.
“We have been taking part in the Farm-to-Chef Program since its inception at Wilton Public Schools, Mr. Reynolds said. “We are also into our fourth growing season in the Wilton High School organic garden.
“The farming community thinks so highly of Wilton Public Schools and what we have accomplished with our school gardens that they have committed to holding the CTNOFA (Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association) meetings here for the second year in a row.”
The bigger question, for parents, is how did obesity reach this point. More than 23 million children and teenagers, ages 2-19, are obese or overweight, with health risks including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Mr. Reynolds puts a some of the blame on the obvious: electronics.
“With the increased use of technology, inactivity has become the norm for many young children,” he said. “Also, parents today are so busy between work and juggling their children’s schedules that fast food has sometimes become a convenient solution to meal times.”
The Mayo Clinic points out that, beyond the physical health concerns, poor self-esteem and depression can also enter into the equation.
The CDC goes on to say on its website that schools are a great place for students to make healthier choices. This supports Chartwells in its goal of helping students eat better.
“We talk to students about what their favorite foods are and what they like to eat in restaurants,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Since we make many of our menu items from scratch and with local ingredients whenever possible, this way we can serve students’ favorite foods while they are at the height of nutritional value and taste great.”
“We also believe that offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables at a younger age allows students to sample foods that they are unfamiliar with, and get them used to enjoying these foods as a healthy, yet tasty, food choice. “It’s important that students have the opportunity to become familiar with new items, including fruits and vegetables, so that they feel comfortable in trying new foods. We do taste testing and a lot of sampling.
Mr. Reynolds stressed that while obesity is a major concern, and he is conscious of it in Wilton, students are doing well.
“I do feel that Wilton students are making better choices, but I have always thought the vast majority of the students in Wilton have involved parents that have a ‘can and will do’ attitude when it comes to preparing their children for a bright future both academically and nutritionally,” he said.