ICSD Wins National School Lunch Award

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — a national doctors group — awarded Ithaca City School District a runner-up award in the 2016 Golden Carrot Awards, and provided ICSD with a $750 cash prize in recognition of its exceptionally healthful plant-based lunches and outstanding health promotion initiatives.
ICSD serves more than 2,500 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade a menu packed with fresh, locally grown ingredients and daily vegetarian entrées. Schools in ICSD also regularly offer nutrient-packed, cholesterol-free vegan entrées that were developed by the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food and popular local chef Wynnie Stein from Ithaca’s Moosewood Restaurant.
These entrée items include whole-grain “Pasta Fazool” with beans and locally grown seasonal vegetables; Tuscan Tomato Pie, a blend of Great Northern beans, tomatoes, spinach, and spices on top of whole-wheat pizza crust; and Mrs. Patel’s Rajma, red kidney beans, gravy, and spices served with rice and broccoli, developed by Mrs. Patel herself — a local Ithaca elementary school assistant teacher.  
Establishing good nutrition habits from the start can dramatically reduce students’ chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases later in life. Today, just 1 in 5 American children eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, while most children’s diets exceed upper limits for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. To date, childhood obesity affects 14.5 percent of New York children.
“Ithaca City Schools are setting students up for success both today and in the future by serving nutrient-packed, plant-based meals for lunch,” says Physicians Committee senior dietitian Karen Smith, R.D.  “Not only do these foods help children stay focused and energized in the classroom, but they also reduce long-term risk for chronic diseases.”
To get students excited about eating healthy lunches, ICSD taste-test each new recipe with a celebration in the cafeteria before its debut. Through the Fresh Snack Program, students at four of the district’s elementary schools with the highest poverty rates receive a half-cup of fresh fruits and vegetables every day as a classroom snack. The program exposes students to new fruits and vegetables and allows teachers to incorporate nutrition education into the curriculum.
Many students also participate in the Youth Farm Project’s Farm to School Program, in which elementary-age students and teenagers grow and harvest fresh fruit and vegetables on farms and then prepare snacks and meals in the school district’s central kitchen.
“It’s exciting to see a whole community — students, faculty, teachers, parents, local farmers, and chefs — working together to prioritize our children’s nutrition and health,” adds Smith.
The Physicians Committee established the Golden Carrot Award in 2004 to recognize schools who serve exceptionally healthful lunches. The national doctors group looks for programs that encourage kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and that offer vegetarian, low-fat, whole-grain, and nondairy options. To learn more about the Golden Carrot Awards, please visit HealthySchoolLunches.org.