Although the FCPS Food and Nutrition Services department is quite efficient, the department’s massive size—with more than 100,000 meals served each day—has hindered its agility in the face of community demands for healthier food offerings.
The roots of the concerns over school food can be traced to the 1970s, when FCPS removed the kitchen equipment used for scratch-cooking in favor of serving, first, TV dinners, and then prepackaged frozen foods (loaded with additives and preservatives) that would be heated and served—a practice that continues until today (Although over the past three years FCPS has reduced the amount of additives and preservatives in foods by more than 90 percent.)
But soon after Michelle Obama began a national dialogue about the importance of healthy food and exercise by launching the Let’s Move campaign in 2010, Fairfax parents formed a community advocacy group called Real Food for Kids (RFFK) to help push for changes locally.
With the support of RFFK in early 2012, the School Board commissioned a study of the FCPS Food and Nutrition Services department and the construction of a fresh food pilot kitchen at Marshall High School—dubbed the Statesmen Station—which would be installed as part of Marshall’s renovation and feature fresh soups, salads and sandwiches made on-site.
Additionally, FCPS launched a regular soda ban pilot program during the 2013-14 school year, substituting healthier drink alternatives in drink machines at seven high schools. The results of this pilot have been promising, and regular soda will be removed from all schools in 2014-15 to comply with new USDA guidelines.
The collaborative efforts of the School Board and Real Food for Kids have been recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama, who—at a Let’s Move event this past February--recited the wRAP written by Marshall High School students to promote the Statesmen Station pilot kitchen.
Following the successful launch of the Statesmen Station in fall 2013, the School Board received the final commissioned report on FCPS practices from Prismatic, Inc., which offered recommendations ranging from improving cafeteria ambiance and signage to installing “fresh fruit and vegetable bars” in all schools. Among other things, as a result of this report “fresh fruit and vegetable zones” will be installed in all middle and high schools by the end of the 2014-15 school year. Elementary schools will follow soon thereafter.
In only two years the School Board, in collaboration with the Fairfax community, has stimulated a marked improvement in school food, and it remains committed to raising children to live healthier and more vibrant lives.