Something is missing from 19 public schools in Fayette County.
It's the deep fryers that those schools once used to prepare students' lunches.
Those schools now are baking or broiling foods that already were flash-fried — fried briefly at high temperatures — before being frozen and delivered to the schools, says Marty Flynn, the district's child nutrition coordinator.
That's part of an overall drive to provide Lexington students with healthier food and more physical activity, according to a district nutrition and physical activity report presented to the Fayette County Board of Education last week.
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Even though the 19 schools have removed frying equipment, more than 30 others still have it, Flynn said. Frying equipment is being removed each time a school is renovated, and no frying equipment is being placed in new schools, Flynn said. The goal is to eliminate all deep fryers.
Meanwhile, in schools that still have frying equipment, moves are under way to reduce the amount of frying or to use healthier, zero trans-fat oils when foods are fried, according to district officials.
Betty White, a health and physical education teacher at Beaumont Middle School, says the move away from fried foods seems to be going over well with many students.
"Really, the way the foods are prepared now, the students often don't even notice that the food they're eating isn't fried," White said. "The foods taste just as good, but they're so much healthier."
In a related effort, the district now recommends schools phase out the use of food as a reward for students' good behavior or for strong academic performance.
Some elementary classrooms hold pizza parties or similar events to celebrate student achievement. While the events might be fun, they didn't always improve students' nutrition, district officials say.
The district has proposed a change in the language of its wellness plan that covers the use of food as rewards. The plan now says schools are encouraged not to use foods that do not meet nutritional standards, but officials said they feared the language could be construed to suggest food rewards were OK as long as the foods were nutritious. The district proposal would remove the reference entirely to prevent confusion.
On the physical fitness front, district officials think they're close to the goal of ensuring that every Fayette elementary student gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily, or 150 minutes a week. That could come through recess or the use of energizers — classroom activities that provide exercise.
In another effort to keep students active, Superintendent Stu Silberman has directed teachers not to withhold physical activity from students as punishment. Officials say that, as an alternative, some elementary schools are withholding free-play time as punishment for students and require instead that those students walk laps around the building. That way they still get exercise.
The school system is considering other steps — hiring a district wellness coordinator and developing a wellness checklist for individual schools. The checklist would be posted on the Fayette County Public Schools Web site — www.fcps.net — so parents could see and compare what schools are doing.