Fuel for learn­ing

NCSS nu­tri­tion di­rec­tor looks out for stu­dents’ best in­ter­ests

The Covington News - - OPINION - By Jenny Thompson

Jan Loomans, New­ton County Schools’ di­rec­tor of school nu­tri­tion, has her plate full mak­ing sure all New­ton County stu­dents study with sat­is­fied tum­mies as well as think­ing of healthy op­tions par­ents will like and stu­dents will ac­tu­ally eat.

Loomans is a li­censed di­eti­cian and holds a mas­ter of busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. She worked for sev­eral years in health and se­nior care be­fore ac­cept­ing a po­si­tion at a new high school in Gwin­nett County.

“It was a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity,” Hughes said. “I learned a lot.”

She then worked as an area co­or­di­na­tor in Cobb County be­fore start­ing as nu­tri­tion di­rec­tor for the NCSS in Oc­to­ber 2006.

The pre­vi­ous di­rec­tor and Loomans knew each other, so she was the first to know when the job opened. She said she is pleased with the move.

“I have a great staff, and we are in a great county,” Hughes said.

Many guess at the du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a di­rec­tor of school nu­tri­tion, but few know ex­actly what that ti­tle en­tails.

“First and fore­most, we are here to feed the chil­dren,” Hughes said, “and to make sure they are nour­ished so they can con­cen­trate in class.

“Stud­ies show that well fed chil­dren per­form bet­ter in school.”

More than 50 per­cent of New­ton County stu­dents eat free and re­duced lunch, which brings in Ti­tle I money for the sys­tem, but means Loomans is charged with mak­ing sure ev­ery­one eats fill­ing and bal­anced meals while they are at school— since they may not at home.

Loomans said she is ex­cited about new pro­grams such as “Break­fast Out­side the Box” at Fairview El­e­men­tary, which al­lows chil­dren to take a sack or boxed lunch into their class­room and eat while their teacher takes at­ten­dance.

She said it is too early to tell whether the pro­gram has in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion in break­fast.

“How­ever, we are able to feed all the kids who want to eat with us,” Hughes said. “The teach­ers are very happy with it.”

Loomans also will help with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion’s pol­icy ef­fec­tive when the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s cur­rent vend­ing con­tract ex­pires. At the end of the year el­e­men­tary school vend­ing ma­chines can carry bot­tled wa­ter and 6 ounce con­tain­ers of 100 per­cent juice; mid­dle school vend­ing ma­chines can carry bot­tled wa­ter and 10 ounce con­tain­ers of 100 per­cent juice; and high school vend­ing ma­chines can carry bot­tled wa­ter, fla­vored wa­ter and 12 ounce bot­tles of Pow­er­Ade.

This is a sig­nif­i­cant change for school vend­ing ma­chine poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to Loomans.

“Three years ago it was a freefor-all,” Hughes said. “What­ever prin­ci­pals wanted to put in there, they could.”

She ex­plained one of her big­gest chal­lenges lies in sat­is­fy­ing health con­science par­ents with low-calo­rie and low-fat op­tions that still taste good to chil­dren.

A re­cent At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion ar­ti­cle Loomans read de­tailed a re­cent study where re­searchers had chil­dren taste-test carrots and ap­ples in plain pack­ag­ing and then in pack­ag­ing from McDon­ald’s. Guess which veg­gies and fruit tasted bet­ter?

The ones em­bold­ened with the golden arches.

She said much of her job en­tails more than nu­tri­tion. Be­cause stu­dents en­joy flashy pack­ag­ing, mar­ket­ing be­comes a huge con­cern for Loomans.

“If I put a Pow­er­Ade out there and a store brand one — they would go for the Pow­er­Ade ev­ery time, even if it was more ex­pen­sive,” Hughes said.

The child­hood obe­sity is­sue be­ing fo­cused on in the main­stream me­dia as of late be­comes an even stick­ier sit­u­a­tion when stu­dents protest what they are be­ing served— or not served.

Last spring, stu­dents at Fic­quett El­e­men­tary pe­ti­tioned the cafe­te­ria to serve ice cream five days a week in­stead of only one day a week.

Even though ice cream is not the best low-calo­rie dessert on the mar­ket, Loomans and her staff agreed to the change be­cause it does sup­ply a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of a child’s daily cal­cium needs.

“With all the obe­sity con­cerns we have, it’s the same for lack of cal­cium,” Hughes said. “We’ve ac­tu­ally seen an in­crease in bro­ken bones es­pe­cially with stu­dents try­ing out for sports,” Loomans said.

This year Looman’s will erad­i­cate fry­ers from school’s that still have them in their kitchens. All tra­di­tion­ally fried foods such as chicken nuggets and French fries will be baked.

She will also over­see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of an anony­mous cafe­te­ria sug­ges­tion pro­gram called “Phan­tom Diner.” Sheets will be avail­able in the cafe­te­ria and of­fices of schools for stu­dents and vis­i­tors to com­ment on their din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

Stu­dents at Liv­ingston El­e­men­tary will test a new af­ter-school snack pro­gram this year as well.

Loomans said she en­joys her job be­cause it mixes to­gether her fa­vorite things.

“I guess more than any­thing I’m a peo­ple per­son,” Hughes said. “I en­joy work­ing with chil­dren and par­ents and teach­ers, and I’m a food per­son — more than I’m a di­eti­cian, I’m a ‘foodie.’

“It’s a good com­bi­na­tion, food and peo­ple.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Feed­ing young minds: Jan Loomans of New­ton County School Sys­tem food ser­vices dis­cusses the im­por­tance of a bal­anced diet for learn­ing in her Cov­ing­ton of­fice .

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