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Smart Choices aims for better nutrition, healthy kids

Michelle Trumpy is the School district's consultant for nutrition.1 / 2
Apple trees were planted at McAuliffe Elementary School this past summer, with the goal of having fruit in several years.2 / 2

Eat healthier, stay healthier.

It is a simple message, but one in which Hastings Independent School District 200 has placed a heavy emphasis on this year.

Through a variety of steps, programs and activities, the School District is making "Smart Choices" to improve student nutrition.

More than a year ago, Dakota County schools began a "Smart Choices" initiative designed to support the health of students and staff by creating an environment that encourages healthy food choices. All school districts in the county are participating in the initiative through a grant.

"Part of it is about increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables," said School District elementary nurse Mary Ellen Fox. "That is for students and staff. The healthier choice becomes the easy choice."

Most recently, the hiring of Michelle Trumpy as a nutritional consultant for the district is another component of Smart Choices. There have been other steps taken. One of the first was the implementation of a Smart Choices website accessed though the Hastings School District website.

There have been changes in the school lunch program, teachers are being encouraged to offer non-food rewards to students and parents are receiving reminders to send healthy snacks with their child to school.

"Through the Smart Choices program, we've made a number of significant changes to improve nutrition in the Hastings School district," said Food Services Director Mary Paula Deane.

She indicated that more fruits and vegetables and whole grains have been incorporated into the school lunch menu as part of the Fresh from the farm program. There has been an approximately 25 percent increase in fruit and vegetables consumption at the elementary schools this year.

"The students really enjoy the taste testing that we offer to introduce them to foods that may be new to them, especially locally grown fruits and vegetables," she said.

Trumpy said making fruits appealing does count among students.

"Make the colors pop," she said.

Apple trees were planted this past summer at McAuliffe Elementary School and Hastings Middle School and will be incorporated into the science curriculum. Hopefully, some will be ready to eat in several years.

Elementary schools have provided guidelines on sending healthy snacks to school with children. Cassi Heppelmann, a Tilden Kindergarten Center teacher, said that students are bringing in fresh vegetables for a class snack for the first time.

Trumpy is working with elementary teachers to increase the use of non-food rewards in the classroom with high school teachers to increase nutrition education provided in health classes. Parents are also receiving monthly emails on nutrition topics. Recipes are included.

Trumpy is also analyzing the food items being sold in the vending machines in the school store at the high school. Consideration will be given to offering healthier choices.

"What we are aiming here is to make everything we do sustainable," said Trumpy. "What we are doing then becomes part of what they do every day."

She praised the efforts of the Hastings School District with its Smart Choices program.

"It is on the cutting edges in that it has made this program a priority," she said. "It is sending a strong message."

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, through its Prevention Minnesota Initiative, and the Minnesota Department of Health's Statewide Health Improvement Program funds the Smart Choices program.