Cedar Rapids schools workshop aims to 'empower' parents

May 6 event will focus on nutrition, wellness

Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School sophomore Kyle Brewer picks from the various fruit and vegetable selections during lunch at Kennedy High School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School sophomore Kyle Brewer picks from the various fruit and vegetable selections during lunch at Kennedy High School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

Class will be in session Tuesday, May 6 for parents in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

A dietitian from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation, which bills itself online as “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals,” will host a free workshop on wellness and nutrition scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6 at Pierce Elementary School, 4343 Marilyn Dr., Cedar Rapids. The 90-minute session, the district’s first as part of the Meet the Challenge!, will serve as an opportunity for adults to provide input on the school system’s wellness policy.

“We want to involve parents, students, employees and administration in making sure that our wellness policy is realistic and involving them in how we can implement that in the schools and make it a reality,” said Suzy Ketelsen, food and nutrition manager for the district.

Ketelsen said she’d also like to encourage families to reinforce the school wellness philosophy at home.

“If parents are aware, they will help support that and encourage those behaviors,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s a partnership with parents to change the culture.”

Those in attendance also will get the chance to sample some of the foods available to students in the schools’ cafeterias. New federal mandates have resulted in menu shake-ups via requirements to serve more dark green, red and orange vegetables as well as legumes.

On Tuesday, guests will be able to try a strawberry spinach salad, a sweet potato and pineapple salad and roasted chickpeas.

“We’ve gotten pretty creative in ways that we can use the subgroup vegetables and we’re pretty excited to show parents what kids are tasting at school,” said Amanda Brown, food and nutrition supervisor for the district.

A few student favorites, such as pizza and breaded chicken, also will be available. Brown said they’re perceived as unhealthy even though staff go to great lengths to make sure the foods use whole-wheat bread and are low in sodium. Ketelsen said she’s also eager to disprove some of those misconceptions.

“With all of the changes in the school nutrition arena with lunch and breakfast, specifically lunch, we’re still hearing people say that school nutrition programs need to be healthier and they don’t understand some of the changes we’re implementing,” she said. “We hope they will see there’s been amazing changes and they will be excited for what schools are now offering to students. ... We want to do the ‘MythBusters’ kind of thing. We want them to sample it and also to look at the nutrition label with us.”

It’s just one of many healthy living ventures in which the district is involved. The Cedar Rapids school system supports the Blue Zones initiative and Ketelsen said staff members are working to make the district compliant with the project’s criteria.

Brown said she hopes parents and caregivers will use the May 6 workshop as a chance to get involved in the wellness councils at each district school. The Iowa Department of Education is funding the workshop through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition grant and Ketelsen said she’s planning to host another event in the fall.

“If (families) give us 1.5 hours of their time I think it would be a wonderful experience and I think people would really benefit from participating in something like this,” she said.

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