The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a national doctors group—awards Austin Independent School District the grand prize in the 2017 Golden Carrot Awards. The district will receive a $3,000 cash prize in recognition of its exceptionally healthful lunches and outstanding health promotion initiatives.
Austin Independent School District serves its 83,000 K-12 students a menu packed with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, many made-from-scratch entrées, and daily plant-based options. Students in each school also have access to a salad bar.
Popular entrées include quinoa breakfast bowls, black bean and vegetable tacos, noodle bowls with edamame, and vegan lentil chili Frito pie. All lunches include several fresh fruit and vegetable options.
Establishing good nutrition habits at a young age can dramatically reduce children’s chances for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases later in life. Today, just 1 in 5 American children eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, while most children’s diets exceed upper limits for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Childhood overweight and obesity affects 33.3 percent of Texas children between the ages of 10 and 17.
“Austin Independent School District is setting up students for success both today and in the future by serving nutrient-packed, plant-based meals for lunch,” says Physicians Committee dietitian Maggie Neola, R.D. “Not only do these foods help children stay focused and energized in the classroom, but they also reduce long-term risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.”
Austin ISD views the lunch room as an extension of the classroom and uses school meals as a platform to both teach students about the importance of good nutrition and provide ample opportunities to try new foods.
To get students excited about healthy eating, the district has hosted a Junior Chopped competition, where middle school culinary students competed to create healthful, delicious smoothies with cilantro as the featured ingredient. A mobile food truck, called Nacho Average Food Truck, rotates between high school campuses, serving healthy options including veggie tacos, zesty black beans, salads, and chili-lime melon.
Many schools in the district have school gardens, where students learn to plant, grow, and harvest fruits and vegetables. Through the district-wide Garden to Café program, certain schools even serve food grown by students in the school lunch line with colorful signage to call out those foods. The district also partners with local farmers, who visit the schools to educate students and serve samples of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Physicians Committee established the Golden Carrot Award in 2004 in recognition of programs that encourage students to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and that offer vegetarian, low-fat, whole-grain, and nondairy options.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.