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Wellness Policy continues reshaping eating habits

The 20 people seated around a table to discuss the Mercer Island School District Wellness Policy are clearly passionate about getting children to eat healthier foods.

They have considered a wide array of details to accomplish their goal, right down to which utensil to provide on the salad bar.

Together, this group of nutritionists, doctor, parents, teachers and administrators have crafted a policy that has changed and will continue to change the things students across the district eat and drink. They’re optimistic that down the road, they’ll also be able to encourage physical activities to keep students fit.

The district committee met last Friday in a meeting to fine-tune the policy in the hopes of soon completing a final draft for school board approval. This year has been a phasing-in year for the federally mandated policy designed to combat childhood obesity.

At the top on the agenda Friday was what kind of drinks to provide under the guidelines that call for serving sizes of 12 ounces or less for anything other than milk or water products. Milk or water products, though they may be larger, must follow the basic drink guideline and contain 15 grams or less of added sugar per serving, and no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat.

Rolando Visitacion, district food services director, brought several different water drinks, lightly flavored with fruit juice or artificial sweeteners, such as Vitamin Water, Talking Rain flavored waters, Smart Water, Flavor Splash and Powerade Option drinks.

These drinks now replace the standard cola products that students even last year knew so well.

“A bottle of this is way better than a Coke,” said parent Kathy Middleton.

And what about the Tully’s coffee stand in the high school? Lattes or cappucinos can be made with nonfat or 1 percent milk, and no drink can be larger than 16 ounces. The committee decided that, though the drinks contain some sugar and caffeine, Tully’s drinks are a good source of milk, according to Kathy Morrison, wellness committee chair.

Overall, the group was upbeat and positive about the impact it has made on student eating habits.

“It’s contagious,” said Middleton. “The kids are coming home and saying ‘We really need to drink more water.’ The salad bar is so colorful. Kids are just gobbling up that fresh fruit. They’re trying more foods.”

And the committee’s ideas keep coming.

The student marketing classes at the high school will research new products for the student store and also conduct a market research project to find a catchier — or “less hokey” — name for the policy.

Dietician Carrie Fisher suggested teaming up dietetic interns with the marketing students to help with nutritional research for posters to be posted around the schools.

“This is the smartest, most complete, most involved group I’ve seen out there working on this,” said Cameron Danby, regional director for Chartwells, the food service provider for the district.

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