Fuel for learning
NCSS nutrition director looks out for students’ best interests
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.”
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 .