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MUSD health food is peachy keen
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USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services’ Dr. Janey Thornton hands out white peaches to Lathrop School students at Wednesday’s Gold Award Recognition assembly. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT
LATHROP – It seemed only fitting for Dr. Janey Thornton to distribute fresh-cut peaches to students at Lathrop School on Wednesday.

As the US Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, she spent the morning along with the previous day paying tribute to seven Manteca Unified elementary sites earning the distinction as the first-ever recipients from California to claim the Healthier US School Challenge.

“Eat smart, play hard,” Thornton said at the special assembly honoring the district’s nutrition services along with the schools achieving the USDA program’s Gold standard of excellence – Golden West, French Camp, Joseph Widmer, Joshua Cowell, Stella Brockman, Lathrop School and the Lathrop Annex.

“Both are important (for students) to balance,” she added.
Eating smart starts with breakfast and includes nutritious meals consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain products, according to Thornton.

These schools were among the hundreds of sites from 79 school districts across the country, depending on criteria, becoming certified as Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Gold of Distinction Schools.

“This was no easy feat,” Thornton said at last Tuesday’s school board meeting. “What (Manteca Unified) has done is a great accomplishment.

“Hopefully, the district will serve as an inspiration to the other districts of California who value children’s nutrition, well-being and fitness.”

In fact, the local sites are making a case to other schools in the state that it’s possible to produce affordable, appealing and highly nutritious meals within the National School Lunch Program requirements and resources.

According to Mary Tolan-Davi, director of nutrition services, Manteca Unified serves up some 3.5 million meals per year.

But the food choices are only part of the equation.

She credits fitness program such as SHAPE, which is a coalition of in-school resources including parent volunteers and community partners.

“It’s really a team effort,” Tolan-Davi said.

Superintendent Jason Messer was equally as proud of those involved with making the national honor possible.

“We’re No. 1 in the state,” he said.

Messer credits the balance of healthier eating choices and fitness contributing to better test scores.

Phyllis Branson-Paul, state director of the nutrition services division representing Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell, indicated that part of the district’s success could also include students helping students.

“You get more done when friends help you,” she said.

The federal agency developed the Healthier US School Challenge as a way to recognize schools that are creating healthy school environments by promoting good nutrition and physical activity.

As for the peaches, Maureen Johnson in MUSD nutrition services said the fruits were picked locally the day before just for the occasion.

The fresh-picked snow angels – that’s the name of the white peaches, according to Johnson – stood next to the cornucopia display consisting of other California-grown produce.

“Peaches are my favorite,” Thornton said.