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Cutting Back on Sugar by Serving White Milk for School Lunches

Schools from the southeast to the northernmost part of the state are reducing how much sugar children are drinking at school by focusing on the milk they serve. Two districts are limiting milk options to plain white milk with no added flavors or sugar.

North Slope Borough School District — Serving only white, unflavored milk is just the beginning

North Slope Borough School District— Serving only white, unflavored milk is just the beginning

The schools in the North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD) stopped serving chocolate and flavored milk about five years ago when Geno Ceccarelli became the district's food service manager. Now the district only serves white milk.

Ceccarelli was first introduced to the area when he volunteered for a camp in Utqiaġvik, formerly called Barrow, over six years ago. He was struck by the amount of processed food that he found available to make the camp meals. Soon after, he applied for the food service manager position.

Ceccarelli immediately started making changes to the quality of the food and stuck to his commitment to serving healthier foods and drinks to children. Ceccarelli now serves fresh food whenever possible, low in sugar and salt. He prepares fresh halibut, roasted chicken, pulled pork, stews, roasted vegetables and whole grain fresh-baked breads at North Slope schools. He also makes marinara sauce with no sugar and snacks that are sweetened with fruit purees and applesauce.

A chef by trade, Ceccarelli said he grew up in a family who did not embrace healthy habits. He chose better habits for eating and physical activity and has been able to maintain good health. He said he likes to teach these same healthy behaviors to the children at North Slope schools. The parents and teachers have started to thank him for the changes he has made, including offering a portable breakfast that kids can take with them to the classroom. The breakfast usually includes a hot breakfast sandwich or burrito, as well as fruit, yogurt and a snack, he said. The bags are prepared the afternoon prior, then the hot sandwich or burrito is added in the morning.

"Since we started the grab-and-go breakfast, I have had very positive feedback from teachers stating kids are more attentive and have had much better behavior," Ceccarelli said. "Parents have stopped me around town and have been very grateful we are providing breakfast, as it makes their job much easier and the children are more content."

Petersburg School District — Serving only white milk, and water, water, water

Petersburg School District — Serving only white milk, and water, water, water

Schools in Petersburg are also serving healthier drinks to children. At lunch, children can drink water or white milk in school cafeterias. Carlee Johnson, Petersburg School District's food service director, made this change gradually when she arrived in 2011, slowly eliminating chocolate milk along with making other changes.

Johnson encourages the children to drink water as much as possible. In Petersburg schools, water is often made more appealing by providing slices of lemon or lime to flavor it. The district also replaced older water fountains with water bottle filling stations in the elementary, middle and high schools, as well as in the gym area.

Johnson said she also believes that fruit juice contains "empty calories" and doesn't offer the same health benefits as eating whole fruits.

"Why are we spending money to provide empty calories to kiddos? Let's get them some wholesome food rather than (sugary) liquids," she said.

This is what Alaska communities are doing to help kids grow up healthy. What can your community do? Click here to find more ideas to provide healthy foods, drinks and physical activity for kids.

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