Elementary School Kitchens in Arlington Get Makeovers
The school system is nearly finished upgrading all elementary school kitchens across the county.
An oven would seem to be an essential appliance in any kitchen — especially an industrial-sized one — but that's not always been in the case in elementary schools throughout Arlington County.
For years, breakfasts and lunches for elementary school students in Arlington have been prepared in a central kitchen and delivered to the schools in boxes. It left little room for hot meals, fresh produce or variety.
But that system is nearly a thing of the past. Amy Maclosky, director of food services for Arlington Public Schools, said most of the county's 22 elementary schools have undergone complete kitchen overhauls.
Ovens have been added, serving lines have been set up and other equipment to warm food has been installed. The response from students and parents has been positive, Maclosky said.
"Every time we convert a kitchen, our participation (in the school lunch program) does increase," she said. "They can choose what they want. They enjoy smelling the food as it cooks. They enjoy the serving line."
Parents appreciate that their children are offered fresher, healthier options than a hot dog in a plastic box, too, Maclosky said.
"The reason we did it was because we wanted to prepare the food on-site so it was freshly prepared and gave more choices for kids," she said. "It’s a better experience all around for our kids."
There's a bit of psychology behind the kitchen conversions, too.
Give children a choice between a few different vegetables and they are likely to pick their favorite and actually eat it.
A Harvard Pilgrim study analyzed factors that successfully encourage students to make healthier food choices and determined one such factor was "offering fresh fruit and vegetable choices at every meal," according to a January Yahoo! article.
Other factors included "teaching kids from the earliest grades that salad can be a meal, not messing with healthy recipes that prove popular and customizing food to the school demographic, for example, offering traditional Hispanic foods to schools with a high Hispanic enrollment."
Arlington Public Schools is slated to spend $62,000 on kitchen equipment upgrades and installation this fiscal year, according to the school system's Capital Improvement Plan. That amount is scheduled to increase to $63,550 systemwide next year.
Costs varied widely from school to school, Maclosky said.
Food is already prepared on-site at all middle and high schools in Arlington, she said.