These days the country seems to be at a heightened awareness of healthful eating, particularly among our young people, where obesity rates have reached shocking levels.
But for all the hype and talk, getting kids off the pop and chips and fast food is often as simple as putting the healthful choice in front of them.
Take the case of Akron's Miller South School for Visual and Performing Arts. Last year, the PTA at the magnet school for fourth- to eighth-graders won a $1,000 grant from the national PTA to use on something to encourage a healthful lifestyle among the students. PTA President Lenore France and her members decided to host a salad bar for the kids as a treat at lunch. It was an overwhelming success.
That got France thinking that it was a shame the school couldn't offer the salad bar more often. She was talking about it to a group of friends and fellow parents on a ski trip, and one of the parents told her that she should contact a teacher by the name of Patricia Gibson, a culinary arts instructor for Akron Public Schools. It was possible that Gibson could help.
Because Gibson and her students at North High School operate a restaurant, she is able to order foods that most school lunch workers in Akron Public Schools don't have access to. She worked up a plan at a price of $3 per student for an all-they-can-eat salad bar. (Well, all they can eat in their 17-minute lunch periods, that is.)
So now, about twice a month, culinary students at North High School spend their morning washing and chopping vegetables and preparing other offerings. About 9:30 a.m. they leave North and travel to Miller South, where they set up their bowls and containers in time for the first 10:30 a.m. lunch bell. Then they don their plastic gloves and serve up salads to a line of waiting students.
This is where I feel compelled to channel the A-Team and say, ''Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?''
Well, apparently so do many of the kids at Miller South. When I visited during a recent seventh-grade lunch period, the line was long and the students enthusiastic as their plates were heaped with lettuce, spinach and beets (yes, you did just read spinach and beets). There were other favorites too, like tomatoes and cucumbers, shredded cheese, cubes of ham and of course, plenty of ranch and Italian dressings.
The salad bars started with the school year in the fall, and Gibson said she tries out different items and was surprised how even the youngest kids will eat beets on their salads.