Cuero elementary schools honored for serving healthy meals
April 22, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 21, 2013 at 11:22 p.m.
CUERO - Even at 5 years old, Mercedez O'Neal knows an apple is good for her.
"I like to eat most of my apple," said the John C. French Elementary School pre-kindergarten student as she held her lunch tray in the school cafeteria. "Sometimes, all of my apple."
It's that apple and the rest of Mercedez's and her schoolmates' lunches that have attracted recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for French and Hunt elementary schools.
The Cuero schools have both been awarded a Gold Award of Distinction by the USDA for the HealthierUS School Challenge, a campaign to reduce childhood obesity and make the nation's schools a model for healthier living.
The award is the highest given in the challenge. Of 796 schools recognized in the challenge in Texas, only 37 earned this highest honor.
Mercedez's mom also recognizes her child and classmates are being well-fed at school.
"I'll ask if she wants me to send a lunch with her to school, and she'll say, 'No.' She likes her school lunch," said Samantha O'Neal. "She likes her vegetables and her fruits."
Vegetables and fruits are part of the criteria necessary to achieve the Gold Award of Distinction - a school lunch that provides students a different vegetable or fruit every day as well as 100 percent fruit juice, a whole-grain food serving and low-fat milk.
"We are committed to serving nutritious meals, and this commitment is at the heart of how we deliver on our promise of helping students flourish," said Sandra Hernandez, Cuero school district food service director.
"We encourage students to embrace good eating and healthy lifestyle habits at an early age, and we understand schools' food and nutrition programs play a big role in this effort."
Luisa Anzaldua, French cafeteria manager for 15 years, said, "We try to be healthy." For breakfast, the school serves a choice of fresh fruit and juice every day and whole-wheat toast as well as an entree.
"At lunch, we'll usually have fresh vegetables - either carrots, corn, peas, green beans or broccoli," she said. "Our sandwiches are always on whole-wheat bread. The milk is always low fat. And we'll have a choice of an apple, orange or banana."
French Elementary, for students in grades pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, serves an average of 200 students per day at lunch.
Hunt Elementary, for students in grades one through three, serves about 340 lunches daily.
In addition to the nutrition program, health and exercise play a role in the schools' recognition.
At French Elementary, physical education teacher Patrick Crain emphasizes diversity.
"I try to give them a variety of activities where they use their bodies and their brain," said Crain of the daily physical education classes.
Principal Kim Fleener said she appreciates Crain's efforts.
"He likes to mix things up ... keep it interesting and wanting them to come to P.E.," she said.
Crain also has a health word wall to help promote good health among the students.
"We're really excited that he is able to teach some aspects of good health coupled with the cafeteria's nutritious meals," said the principal.
Fleener added the national recognition is an encouraging sign that the schools are doing the right thing.
"With the childhood obesity problem, we're excited to be able to do something in the lower grades both here and at Hunt," she said.