Fairfax students feast on fresh dishes

The menu was an appetizing smorgasbord: apple-and-cranberry Waldorf salad, greens with chopped kale, roasted red-pepper humus, falafel flat-bread sandwiches, chow mein noodles and a yogurt parfait with granola and fresh strawberries and blueberries.

The catch of the day? The dishes were being served at the George C. Marshall High School cafeteria, where a new pilot project this year offers teenagers fresh foods and healthy options for lunch.

The Statesman Station, the only cafeteria of its kind in the county, opened this fall at Marshall with the support of Real Food for Kids, a Fairfax-based advocacy group that promotes better nutrition for students.

“We want to introduce kids to new foods, fruits and vegetables,” said Real Food for Kids president and co-founder JoAnne Hammermaster. “We want to expose them to these fresh foods so that they start good eating habits as they grow older.”

The Fairfax County School Board unanimously voted last spring to fund a $100,000 project to build the Statesman Station at Marshall to test the concept promoted by Real Food for Kids. Other cafeterias around the county only offer meals that are ready-made and need to be heated, Hammermaster said. The innovative offerings at Marshall, she said, include dishes prepared on site, such as Asian noodle entrees and tuna salads.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility Thursday, school board members and administrators noshed on zucchini bread, edamame and spicy chicken wraps.

School board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), who graduated from Marshall in 2004 as the valedictorian and senior class president, helped spearhead the effort to bring tastier and more healthful items to the school’s menu.

“As a student, I observed among my peers an attitude against eating in the cafeteria because the food wasn’t as healthy as students wanted,” McElveen said, later noting that nutritious food in the lunchroom could help “reduce health-care costs” in the future.

The Statesman Station is part of a larger campaign to improve the health of teens at Marshall, Hammermaster said, noting that the school will voluntarily take part in a soda ban this year, removing high-calorie sugary drinks from students’ vending machines.

County School Superintendent Karen Garza said that the new Statesman Station facility would serve students well. School officials are considering expanding the program to more Fairfax County high schools.

“The health and well-being of our children must be mission critical,” Garza said.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.

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