In an example of how hospitals interested in public health issues are beginning to work with other segments, the Cleveland Clinic has partnered with the Berea (OH) School District to pilot the Clinic's new Eat Right at School healthy menu program. It was officially kicked off with an event at the district's Grindstone Elementary School in late October, though Eat Right at School had been in Berea's elementary cafeterias since the beginning of the current school year.
“If you can get the seal of approval for your menu from the Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's foremost health organizations, and that menu is one kids really like, then that's a great thing,” says Beth Spinks, director of nutrition services for the Berea district. The pilot program and the high-profile launch event were intended to interest other school districts in using Eat Right at School in their meal programs.
At the kickoff event, fourth graders from Grindstone were treated to a taste testing of different fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farmer, and they also listened to a presentation from Clinic nutrition experts about the benefits of a healthy diet.
The pilot at Berea covers only elementary school menus, though the Clinic eventually hopes to adapt the standards to secondary school menus as well, says Laura Jeffers, RD, a Clinic dietitian who worked with the Berea Schools to implement Eat Right at School.
The program originated when Spinks contacted the Clinic to see if she could work with the medical center on healthier school lunch choices a little over a year ago. Spinks says she had four requirements: that the menu they came up with be “food safe” (“I don't want my staff cutting up raw chicken”), that it be kid-friendly (“no squash soup!”), that it meet Berea's food cost requirement of around a dollar a meal (it ended up at $1.01) and that it meet USDA requirements for school meals.
The Clinic ended up using the Go! criteria developed by its Wellness Institute as the model for the Eat Right at School program (for more, see the sidebar).
“Eat Right at School is a healthy dining program for schools that is actually stricter than what the USDA requires,” Jeffers claims. “It has specific criteria governing things like fat, fiber and whole grains, sodium, calories and the percentage of fruits and vegetables.”
The criteria were then compared to the existing choices at Berea elementary schools. “We included some stepping stones so the school could progress in the right direction over time, with the long-term goal being full compliance with the Go! criteria,” Jeffers says.
Most changes — using canned fruit packed in water or unsweetened juice rather than heavy syrup — went over without comment or notice, as far as Spinks could tell.
The one change that did cause controversy was a new pizza. It used slightly different ingredients to make it healthier, but what prompted over a hundred fourth graders to write complaining letters was the square shape. “Once we changed it back to the wedge they were familiar with, the complaining stopped,” Spinks reports.
The Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute has developed a series of criteria to gauge the healthfulness of various foods. The Go! label is used designate foods for health-conscious consumers, but the criteria have been adapted to the school nutrition environment as well through the Eat Right at School initiative.
Here are the Go! Nutritional criteria…
Minimal Saturated Fat: less than 4 grams for main dishes; less than 2 grams for side dishes, soups and desserts
No Trans Fat
Minimal Added Sugars and Syrups: less than 4 grams for main dishes and desserts; less than 2 grams for side dishes and soups
100% Whole Grain
Minimal Sodium: No more than 600 mg in entrees; 480 mg in sides and desserts