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Parents have a guiding hand in nutrition in Carlynton schools

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:26 p.m.
Lunch attendant Kathy Griffin of Carnegie rings out ninth-graders Tyler Harding, center, 14, of Crafton and Tyler Clayton, 15, of Carnegie during lunch at Carlynton High School. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item
Ninth-grader Byron Hudson, 14, of Carnegie enjoys a slice of pizza made with whole wheat dough during lunch at Carlynton High School. Randy Jarosz | For The Signal Item

When Kim Cooper's son Hayden began kindergarten at Crafton Elementary School in 2011, she noticed his school diet didn't exactly match his home diet.

After dealing with some sensitivity to certain types of food, Cooper cut heavily back on sugar in her own diet. When she consumed sugar later, she noticed a feeling similar to being “hung over.”

“That started getting me thinking, ‘Well, if that had that kind of effect on my body, what could it be doing to the kids who are eating a lot of sugar in school?” Cooper said.

Cooper is one member of a group of eight to 10 parents who are getting together to discuss nutrition in the Carlynton schools.

The group created a Facebook page called Healthy Carlynton Kids last week and is seeking more parents to discuss nutrition and wellness in schools.

“What we'd like to do right now is just kind of start a discussion amongst the community about what's working, if something isn't working, is there something we can do to change it, to gather ideas,” Cooper said. “And it doesn't just have to be about nutrition — health, wellness, anything we can do to make our kids' lives better.”

Carlynton's food service program, which is contracted to Aramark through the 2013-14 school year, operates within the nutritional guidelines set forth by the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, interim food service director Scott Graf said.

“I run nutritionals every month on the menu to make sure that we're following all the guidelines,” Graf said.

The federal dietary guidelines include calorie intake specifications and require schools to offer fruits, vegetables, whole grains and meat alternatives. They also call for meals to be prepared with foods that contain no trans fats and for an overall reduction of sodium.

The district also has a state-mandated Wellness Policy that restricts the types of snacks and drinks that can be offered to students throughout the day.

Graf said it can be harder to manage what students are eating at Carlynton Junior/Senior High School, which offers a la carte options such as pizza, cheeseburgers and made-to-order subs along with the regular lunch set daily. Still, he said pizza and pasta are made with whole wheat, and the district goes for low-fat and low-sugar ingredients whenever possible.

“I've noticed the little kids aren't as picky with it,” Graf said. “ ... I think it's something that's going to take time, kind of a generational thing, to sink in.”

Cooper said she had spoken to Graf about concerns with the “slushie” machines at the junior/senior high school and Crafton Elementary. Graf said the machines dispense 100 percent fruit juice.

Cooper addressed the board at its Feb. 7 meeting about the possibility of adding healthier options in meals and healthier snacks in the elementary schools.

“We all felt that it's legitimate that we want to give our kids healthy meals,” board President David Roussos said last week. “I think her point was, bringing in a cookie and stuff like that is fine. But if every day they're having all this sugar, do we want to ask ourselves, ‘How much is OK (and) how much is too much?' That's a good debate to have.”

While Cooper said she was looking into the potential for a health and wellness committee, right now she would like to attract some more interested parties to discuss nutrition.

“We're not trying to be the sugar police or tell anybody what to eat or how to eat,” she said. “But (we're asking), ‘Are there opportunities to make some changes and to make things better, to learn from each other?”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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