Fruits of their labor|VWSD nutrition receives recognition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Child Nutrition Department of the Vicksburg Warren School District has been awarded a top prize for its commitment to combating child obesity.

The Award of Excellence in School Wellness — and a $500 check — was given to program director Gail Kavanaugh by the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association at the district’s board meeting Thursday.

“I have worked with Gail for many years because of my job and, in my viewpoint, she is the epitome of excellence,” said SUDIA program account manager Greta Heru as she presented the check to Kavanaugh.

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“Ours, too,” said board member Zelmarine Murphy.

Kavanaugh’s department was cited for getting kids to drink more milk and eat more dairy foods as well as increasing students’ physical activity levels, Heru said.

Kavanaugh makes use of extensive computer programs to make sure school menus adhere rigorously to mandates for nutritional composition of foods. She also worked to implement school wellness policies and makes child nutrition, exercise and health information available to parents both on the district’s Web site and through monthly newsletters called “Nutrition Nuggets.”

Kids are drinking more milk, Kavanaugh said. The schools have shifted to individual-sized bottles from the old-fashioned cartons. The bottles keep the milk colder and they are easier for little hands to open neatly, she said.

“We know it’s helped increase their consumption of milk, and it keeps them coming back,” Kavanaugh said. Schools also offer three flavors of 1 percent milk — chocolate, strawberry and vanilla — in addition to regular 2 percent white milk. “Flavored milk has its pros and cons, but children need the calcium, so if we can get them to drink milk that’s the main thing.”

Next year the district will switch to 1 percent in all its milk products, she said.

Kavanaugh is looking into using the $500 award to buy portable milk-holding equipment so schools can serve milk on field days and at other times students are eating outside, “even when we’re playing.”

“We have one of the finest child nutritionists in the country,” VWSD Superintendent Dr. James Price said of Kavanaugh. “When Washington is trying to figure out what to do about school food programs, they call on her to come testify. We’re very fortunate to have her looking out for our children.”

Contact Pamela Hitchins at