Officials look at school nutrition

The Superintendent of Upshur County Schools told the Create Buckhannon group that his cooks have to follow the philosophy about leading a horse to water when it comes to proper nutrition.

“You can lay all of this great food out,” Scott Lampinen said. “But if they don’t touch it or eat it, it doesn’t do any good.”

Create Buckhannon, a grassroots organization looking to find ways to improve quality of life issues throughout the community, used Thursday’s meeting to address child poverty and nutrition situations. Lampinen said the school system is trying to incorporate healthy lifestyle habits in many of its traditional lessons. He said the battle is correcting many bad habits that have already been engrained into the children long before they reach school age.

“It’s tough to change adult habits,” he said. “But if you think of the seatbelt laws and the no-smoking laws when those kids became adults, they were using seatbelts and cutting back on smoking.”

The school system has also incorporated a daily salad bar, which features a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of those items have been purchased locally.

“The kids, after they get their main dish, can go up and get all the fruits and vegetables they wish,” Lampinen said.

A “Breakfast After First” program has started in the schools. Lampinen said many students arrive too late to eat the traditional breakfast offering, but they grab the bag breakfast during the break between first and second period.

The bag typically contains an item such as fruit or muffins, juice or milk.

“It has increased the breakfast rate at the high school by over 200 percent,” Lampinen said. “Those that didn’t participate at first had to hang out in their classrooms for those 10 minutes. So they started saying, ‘Hey, I’m pretty hungry.'”

School officials said they were surprised to learn how the eating habits can vary from school to school. One reason they believe this trend occurs is that fast food restaurants are more readily available to those living in or nearer to Buckhannon.

“They can walk across the street and go to a McDonald’s or Burger King,” Lampinen said.

Lampinen said one of the biggest concerns school leaders have is when the children are away from the classroom for an extended time because of weather or breaks. He said many of those children do not have a hot meal waiting for them at home.

“When I say many, you would be surprised at how many that is,” the superintendent said. “We make sure our children have food for the weekend.”

He explained that often times, jars of peanut butter and packages of crackers are sent home with students.

Lampinen said school personnel are returning to the practice of home visits, saying it is a way to better gauge the environment their students are in. He said many families do not know how to prepare some food, such as when frozen turkeys are offered during holidays. He related a story about a school have a canned food drive for needy families in which one person became upset over the contents of the package. A deeper investigation revealed the cause for the distress – the family did not own a can opener.

“We never thought of that,” he said. “We thought we were doing a good thing.”