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Chef works with schools to promote healthy living

Chef Marshall O'Brien poses for a photo with students from Hastings Middle School. O'Brien visited the school to see what can be done to help improve school lunches. (Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn)

He spent a lot of time with Hastings Middle School staff and students last Friday, asking for their opinions and suggestions. And that was just fine with chef Marshall O'Brien.

O'Brien's visit at the middle school was his second stop among the Hastings schools - he visited Hastings High School several weeks ago and will visit the elementary schools later this month. His visits are part of a partnership that School District 200 and ConAgra Mills have formed to promote healthy living among the students.

O'Brien praised the Hastings schools for their efforts. In particular, he noted that Food Service Director Mary Paula Deane and her staff have been working hard before the new hot lunch regulations went into effect.

"Hastings is above the curve in promoting healthy eating," he said. "Hastings really cares about its students."

As part of the day's visit, O'Brien met with a group of seventh-grade student to hear their "likes and dislikes" about the menus and what suggestions they had. One suggestion from students was to have more variety in vegetables.

He considered it significant that students are part of the effort to enhance the available menus.

"The fact that the students are part of the process shows the integrity of the district," he said. "It speaks volumes."

O'Brien also pointed to ConAgra Mills' part in helping to promote healthy eating.

"ConAgra wants to support the community," he said. "When you support it, really good things happen."

O'Brien is working with about 12 school districts in Minnesota, encouraging the students to eat healthier and smarter, then take the message home.

"Hastings has made some really good decisions," he said. "They recognize that if make something visually appealing, it can be a successful meal. And a healthy one, too."

Promoting healthy and smart eating at school can, hopefully, reach to the home, said O'Brien.

"We want to help change what is happening at home," he said. "Let's have more nutritious meals at home."