2012 Whole Grains Challenge Winners Announced

National Award Program Recognizes Creative K-12 School Food; Top Schools Receive Healthy Whole Grain Workshop with Guest Chef

BOSTON, December 18, 2012 – Proving that healthy and great tasting whole grains rule in the cafeteria, the non-profit Oldways and its Whole Grains Council (WGC) announce the winners of the 6th annual Whole Grains Challenge, celebrating “Veteran” and “Rookie” schools making whole grains irresistible for their students. 

The Grand Prize “Veteran” Winner was Saint Paul Public Schools in St. Paul, Minn., a long-time server of whole grains in their schools and constant innovator.  In the “Rookie” category, newcomer Baker School District in Baker City, Ore. took the prize.  Each will receive a visit from a guest chef who will hold a workshop on making whole grain kid-friendly dishes.  These two schools and eight others, selected as our Top Ten Schools, will also receive a large selection of whole grain samples.

The Whole Grains Challenge aligns with new USDA school food rules and encourages K-12 schools to share their success stories for promoting whole grain consumption.  The two Grand Prize Winners and 8 runners-up were chosen based on creative whole grain menu offerings and innovative promotional efforts.

“Every school district in the country has been working hard this fall, to implement major changes in school lunch requirements for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These Whole Grains Challenge winners demonstrate that school lunches featuring whole grains can indeed be nutritious, delicious and filling,” said Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for the Whole Grains Council and Oldways.  “These winning schools are inspiring models for others throughout the country and show how collaboration and inventiveness can lead to satisfied students in the cafeteria.”

U.S. schools participating in the National School Lunch Program were invited to compete in one of two categories.  “Veteran” schools were cafeteria trailblazers that had jumped into the whole grain game long before the new rules came out.  “Rookies” were schools new to whole grains that were ramping up quickly in the wake of the July 1, 2012 requirements; these schools were motivated but still learning the best ways to cook and serve whole grains.

The judges faced some tough decisions before arriving at the following winners:

Grand Prize “Veteran” Winner:  St. Paul Public School, St. Paul, MN
At Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS), serving up “great trays for great days” is what they do. The school district has been offering whole grains for more than six years, and is on target to meet its goal of serving 100% whole grain-rich foods next year.  Saint Paul values students’ opinions, which they gather through a proven process of taste-testing potential new whole grain dishes. This process of slowly incorporating new foods, while honoring the diverse ethnic backgrounds of the student population, helps the district break through kids’ acceptance barriers.

Grand Prize “Rookie” Winner:  Baker School District, Baker City, OR
The Baker School District may be new to whole grains, but they use an age-old concept for getting kids on board – education!  Using the WGC’s Grain of the Month as her guide, Jessica Wickert, Food Service Director, hung posters, engaged her students in trivia games and staged recipe competitions.  By the time the students arrived in the cafeteria, they knew what whole grain would be on the menu and were excited to give it a try!  Having the students help promote the healthy foods is not only fun, but also very effective.

New York Dept. of Education, New York, NY
NYC schools are Fueling up the Whole Grain way!!! They are currently feeding 800,000 students daily, in the five boroughs of NYC, including whole grains on 26 different menus.  Using a process similar to that in Saint Paul, NYC makes sure all new products and menu items are reviewed in their test kitchen by a panel of chefs, then tested with students. Feedback is then given to the manufacturer to make final adjustments based on the chefs’ and students’ preferences, ensuring the inclusion of a wide variety of whole grain dishes – not just breads and rolls – that satisfy the district’s budget and the kids’ taste buds. NYC was our Large Schools winner in 2009, and we’re delighted to see they’re still continuing to innovate.

Shawnee Public Schools, Shawnee, OK
The Shawnee schools are proudly serving whole grains to their students, just as they have for the last 18 years!  As an early adopter of whole grains, Director Deborah Taylor told us about the highest compliment she’d been given. “The county extension provider for our county told me, ‘I always know when parents of kids from Shawnee Schools are in attendance at my workshops.  The parents say that their kids want to buy whole grains…. because they’re eating them at school.’  So, I would like to think that, in my 21 years at Shawnee Schools, I’ve changed the food choices that my town makes.” We agree, and salute the Shawnee schools.

Chelsea Public Schools, Chelsea, VT
Focusing on positivity, the Chelsea school has learned that the key to gaining acceptance from students is to have a positive outlook about the changes.  Kitchen Manager Cathy Johnson explained that offering samples to students, teaching about good nutrition, and having positive role models is what it takes to make the introduction of whole grain menu items successful.

New Milford Public Schools, New Milford, CT
The slow introduction of whole grains has worked for New Milford and can only be expanded upon to truly make New Milford a whole grain veteran.  Sandra Sullivan, the Food and Nutrition Services Director at New Milford, tells us about “baby steps” the school is taking as they explore whole grains.  Their first changes began with rolls, then from white rice to brown whole grain rice and on to tortillas, bagels and muffins.  Next step will be to experiment with other, less familiar whole grains, like quinoa.

Southwest Middle School, Orlando, FL
Motivated to add whole grains to breakfast and lunch, and wanting to make foods the kids would eat and enjoy, Southwest’s Food & Nutrition Manager Luis Daniel Isaac started his quest by creating fun side dishes using brown rice.  By mixing the whole grain rice with a variety of ingredients and using the taste-test method, the kitchen staff were pleasantly surprised at how much the students enjoyed the rice bowls.  Repeating the same approach, they also developed a variety of whole grain breakfast parfaits made with whole grain cereals, yogurt and fresh fruit.  Success!  And so onward they will go using this tried and true method.

Union Chapel Elementary, Kansas City, MO
With the new school rules implemented with the 2012-2013 school year, Union Chapel Elementary has been transitioning to whole grain pizza crusts, breadsticks, and pastas. What Erica Johnson, the Food Services Assistant, reported as the biggest barrier is palatability, “especially in pastas”.   The current favorite of students is whole grain bagels stuffed with sunflower butter and jelly, for a nut-free version of PB&J.

Park School, Baltimore, MD
Past winner and always-impressive Park School cafeteria promoted the Whole Grain Challenge in their upper and lower schools on every menu, including faculty and administrators.  The Director of Food Service at Park, Dawn Ramsey, coordinated a fabulous food demo on whole grains with samples; putting up whole grain posters, and inviting an intern from a local hospital to teach about the importance of whole grains led to yet another very successful whole grain celebration.  Posting reminders of the nutritional value of whole grains has been the key for their acceptance by both students and faculty.

Grace Hartman Elementary, Rockwall, TX
As the Child Nutrition Manager at Grace Hartman Elementary in Rockwall, Vicki Dorgelo has been using whole grains for just a short time.  Also following a baby steps procedure of introducing one new product at a time, Dorgelo and her staff have made their way from whole grain rolls to pasta. They found the transition to whole grains, so far, has been surprisingly easy. Dorgelo shares her secret for perfectly cooked whole grain pasta: prepare it ahead, timing the cooking process carefully, chill the pasta until meal time, then garnish and “serve all dishes with a smile.”

Special Thanks to Indian Harvest and Goose Valley Natural Products for providing our Guest Chef Workshops and to the following companies for donating cases of whole grain foods to the Whole Grains Challenge winners: Amoy NA, Barilla, Barrel O’ Fun, Bob’s Red Mill, Catallia Mexican Foods, Gluvana, Goose Valley Natural Products, HomeFree, Indian Harvest, Purity Foods, Signature Breads.

Schools that missed this year's contest, but still need help incorporating whole grains into their school menus are urged to download our Whole Grain Foodservice Recipe Booklet, by visiting: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/foodservice-recipes

Please contact Rachel Greenstein (rachel@oldwayspt.org or 617-896-4888) for more information, including hi-res graphics, interviews with winning schools or WGC and Oldways program managers, or recipes.

About Oldways and the Whole Grains Council
Oldways (www.oldwayspt.org) is a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. The Whole Grains Council (WGC), an Oldways program, has been working since 2003 to increase consumption of whole grains for better health, and in 2005 introduced the Whole Grain Stamp, now used on 8,000 products in 36 countries. The WGC's many initiatives help consumers to find whole grain foods and understand their health benefits; help manufacturers and restaurants to create delicious whole grain foods; and help the media to write accurate, compelling stories about whole grains. You can learn more about both at http://www.oldwayspt.org and http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org.

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