Schools Are Stepping Up To A Healthier Plate by Dena Ventrudo

As a recently diagnosed Type 1 Diabetic, I’ve had to make quite a few serious adjustments to my diet and lifestyle. When I was diagnosed, I was a 21 year old college student and I was devestated. My diet consisted mostly of Dunkin Donuts, fast food, candy, and the Friday night beer. While that ultimately did not affect why I was diagnosed, because Juvenile Diabetes is a genetic illness, I began to see why Type 2 Diabetes was rising so quickly among younger children and some adults. Our society has integrated fast food restuarants like McDonalds into pop-culture as trendy and convenient.

I must confess, being raised in a McDonalds generation makes it difficult not to cheat and indulge in their dollar menu every so often, but I now recognize how awful it makes me feel immediately after eating it and how unhealthy it is in the long run.

There is hope for the younger generations, however. School districts across the country are revamping their menus with healthy items, as is now required by law. This new federal law took effect on July 1st and required public schools that receive government subsidies for meals to create “wellness policies” that outline nutrition and exercise goals before classes began this fall.

Connecticut has banned sugary drinks from cafeterias and vending machines in kindergarten to grade 12 school buildings. New Jersey will be following suit by next fall, as well as forbidding the sales of anything listing sugar as its main ingredient.

French fries are now baked and vending machines are restocked with water and juice. Baked soy and fruit chips are replacing fried potato chips and doritos. The size of pretzels have been reduced and fruit bars are replacing ice cream sandwiches. Snacks of old are being replaced by healthier options.

John Jay and other Katonah-Lewisboro schools have gone as far as substituting vegie frittatas and whole wheat vegie lasagna for hamburgers and french fries. John Jay’s cafeteria has also ditched processes foods, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup. They have a salad bar with beans, nuts, and low fat dressings.

Katonah-Lewisboro hired a chef from the Culinary Institute of America to help introduce the changes there. But few districts have done as much as this one. There are many interpretations of this federal mandate.

So how do parents and teachers monitor what their kids are really eating? The district uses an automated system that allows the school and the parents to track what the child is eating. Parents deposit money into an account, indicating whether it is to be used for meals, snacks, or whether the student has dietary restrictions. Children enter a PIN at the cafeteria checkout counter. A red box flashes on the checkout screen if a child is a diabetic, for example, to alert the cashier to check if the meal is safe.

The school food changes was spurred partially from reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that estimate one in six school age children are overweight (three times the statistic in 1980) and that Type 2 Diabetes will reach epidemic proportions among children if current trends continue.

In towns such as Elwood, Chappaqua, NY and Greenwich, CT, using food as an incentive or reward is forbidden.

Its great that this country has finally woken up a little bit. America has the highest rate of obesity in the world right now. We simply do not know how to eat properly as a majority. And while I think the enforcement of the new menu’s in schools is a little agressive, it does need to happen. I think as long as they are teaching why it is so important, and the realistic dangers of Type 2 Diabetes, it could be the best thing that ever happens to these children during their education. If I knew how to eat properly prior to my diagnosis as Type 1, it would not have been nearly as devestating as it was. I initially cried over not being able to drink Coca Cola and Mountain Dew- now I live on green tea and don’t miss a thing.

My prediction: There will be a huge outcry at first from students, but after a few months to a year, they’ll get used to it and realize its not so bad afterall.

For more information on Diabetes and healthy living please visit

by Dena Ventrudo
Dena Ventrudo is the Assistant Editor of Merlian News. She is a published poet and creative writer. Dena volunteered as an environmentalist with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) for three years serving as a project leader, an intern, and a board representative. She has a BA in Liberal Studies.