MARLBORO — How many kids do you know that are excited about Brussels sprouts?
Well, they are a hot item on the Marlboro School menu. Kathy Pell, the school cook, roasts them with garlic, olive oil and tamari and the kids love them. Overall the kids are very willing to try to new foods and peer encouragement has been an integral part of the students' willingness to try new foods.
The Marlboro Elementary School is a small school with 83 kids in grades K through 8. The Fit and Healthy Kids Coalition has named the school the Winter 2016 Community Champion because of the itss commitment to promoting good nutrition. School administrators started a healthy snack breakfast program in January 2008 and since then have implemented a full food program with breakfast, lunch and after-school snack. Their full meal program started in January 2013.
Francie Marbury, who has been the principal at Marlboro since 2002, is amazed at the expansion of their food program, from a tiny kitchen in 2002 to a whole school commitment to serving nutritious food. Their goal is to provide locally grown foods, as much as possible, from their own garden or through purchase from Windham Farm and Food, a core part of the Food Connects Program.
Food Connects' mission is to cultivate healthy food connections in classrooms around Windham County and they have been a big support to the growing food program at Marlboro School. Since they do not have a lunch room or a cafeteria, all the kids eat in their respective multi age classrooms. The food is served in the hall on tables. Lunch times are staggered so there are no long lines in the hallway and once they get their meal the students go back to eat in their classrooms.
Over the years since the food program started , many different staff and parents have supported the healthy food initiative, which is part of the reason why it has been so successful. One teacher, Erica Morse, has been instrumental in getting a garden going at the school. Her students have been actively involved in the garden, from starting seeds and planting the seedlings to maintaining the garden and harvesting the produce. The students then do an awesome job of promoting the produce to the entire school community, by regularly going around with food samples for the other kids to try.
With the help of her students, Morse has made many different foods using the produce and has managed to access some local funding for special equipment to help prepare the food samples. One example is a "spiralizer," which creates unique shapes with the produce (such as zucchini pasta) making it look more tempting. She continues to look for local funding resources to help with purchases of food preparation equipment.
Much garden produce was used for a well attended and successful Harvest dinner served at the school in November, to culminate the bountiful garden season.
This school year every class at Marlboro has agreed to participate in the Vermont Harvest of the Month Program. Each class is committed to promoting use of seasonal Vermont foods for two months. Classes make food samples for all the students to try and distribute information about the foods for that month, with the use of materials from this program.
Pell has been an integral part of the school's successful food program. She was never trained as a cook, but always loved to prepare food. She is committed to serving good food to kids and getting them excited about eating all kinds of vegetables.
"It is a challenge with the federally funded food program to serve nutritious foods, but it can be done if you are bound and determined."
The school has access to many commodity foods from the government and though these foods are often very processed and are not high quality, limited amounts are used to help defray costs. Pell's priority is to serve real food, so she makes 80 percent of their foods from scratch. She would like to order more foods locally but there are obstacles. It is a work in progress and luckily they have had the help of Food Connects. Pell focuses on serving fruits and vegetables, since these foods are often lacking in kids' diets — either because they are not served regularly or because they are not prepared in an appealing way. She serves more vegetables and fruits than required by the food program, so kids will have a choice if they are not keen on one.
The Marlboro School is well on its way to a great nutritious meal program and they have many things they want to work on, such as school wide composting. They are committed to providing healthy food, as much local as possible and continuing to keep the students excited about the meals. They also want to expand their after school program meal which was implemented last fall. The Fit and Healthy Kids Coalition would like to recognize the great strides they have made since they started serving food many years ago. We are pleased to applaud them for their efforts in providing nutritious food for kids, a crucial factor in maintaining good health.
The Fit & Healthy Kids Coalition of Windham County works together to foster practices, programs and policies that engage the community in raising fit and healthy children. We invite you to join with us and our community's kids to play more and eat better.
For more information, visit www.windhamcountyfitandhealthykids.org or find Fit and Healthy Kids on Facebook. The recipe for the Brussel sprouts is as follows: Preheat oven to 400 degrees; place Brussel sprouts into large sealable bag with enough olive oil to coat and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper; close the bag and toss to coat; place in roasting pan; sprinkle with Tamari (soy sauce) and add minced garlic; and roast in oven 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. They are done when browned slightly and somewhat tender but not mushy.