The FCPS “Clean Team

Food Additives

What’s in School Food?

There is a lot of attention today about what we eat and where it comes from. Did you know that Fairfax County Public Schools’ Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) has been working hard since 2011 to source products that are free of harmful artificial additives, dyes, and preservatives?

It is not an easy process. Real Food for Kids (RFFK) has been advocating for these healthy changes and has learned a lot over the years. The school food program is incredibly complicated. As much as we want changes overnight, change takes time.

RFFK recently spoke with two of the people in FNS who dedicate a lot of their working time to this endeavor: Ruth Matoto, and Teresa Hinds.

In their technical specifications, FNS requires that most foods are free of the following items: artificial flavors, red 40, yellow 5 & 6, blue colorant, BHA, BHT, MSG, HFCS, potassium bromate, and several others. FNS uses the Chemical Cuisine guidelines set out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to help determine which items to eliminate, which RFFK supports.

One of their biggest challenges is using products that constantly change:  manufacturers consistently make small formulation changes to their products. So the FNS team has to be very diligent in tracking all of the changes to ensure the products continue to meet their specifications, and that they have posted those changes to the website.

When asked about one of the most difficult items to eliminate, they point to nitrites. Matoto notes that “Students love their pepperoni!” It is very challenging to find a pepperoni product free of nitrites. But Matoto also notes that they are working very hard in sourcing meat and poultry products free of antibiotics, as cost constraints permit. The demand is growing stronger, so manufacturers are starting to listen. Organizations are helping to drive that change, such as School Food Focus, a national collaborative that ignites change in the school food system by connecting districts and food businesses across the supply chain to put healthy meals on kids’ school plates. One of their main initiatives is working with manufacturers to provide more antibiotic-free poultry for schools.

Another area of concern in school food is allergies, which have grown to epidemic proportions in schools across the country. Hinds point out that it is virtually impossible to remove all allergens in the food served to students in today’s environment, as allergies and even sensitivities to food are going to get worse. Because of these issues, ingredient information is available on the FCPS website for parents to determine if their child can eat certain items on the menu.

RFFK has seen the changes in the last several years as schools work towards products free of additives. Both Matoto and Hinds note that more products will be made available once the demand in the retail market also pushes changes through. Many major retail grocery stores have started their own lines of products free of additives, so we believe the changes will come – in time.

In the meantime, Matoto and Hinds work hard every day for the students in FCPS. Students may not know that artificial ingredients have been progressively eliminated from the food they purchase in the cafeteria, but it is important to many parents in the district. As parents, we thank Food and Nutrition Services for all their hard work!



Decoding Your Kid’s Sugar High

Shehla Dhar
George Mason University
MS Nutrition Candidate, School of Nutrition and Food Studies


As a parent of two growing kids, I have always focused on feeding them nutrient-dense foods and steering away from the empty calories in high sugar, energy-dense foods. Energy-dense foods have been linked to increased rates of childhood diabetes and obesity, to name a few.

So, naturally, at a recent birthday party, I requested small portions of cake for my kids, expecting they would have a “sugar rush” and go “hyper” after they ate it.

It turns out that expectation may be all wrong.

While there are plenty of reasons for avoiding high sugar food, the evidence that sugar makes kids hyper may not stand up. Yes, there are children, and adults, who have adverse sugar reactions, but the reason most kids seem “hyper” after sugar intake, is that the circumstances surrounding that sugar intake is often what leads to the uptick in energy. Take a birthday party for example. These are rarely low-key, so when a high-energy event is paired with a sugary treat, the result can be explosive.

Let’s take a look at some interesting research. In a study, boys, reported to be behaviorally “sugar sensitive,” were randomly assigned – along with their mothers – to experimental and control groups. Mothers in the experimental group were told their boys were receiving a large dose of sugar. Mothers in the control group were told their boys were getting a placebo. However, researchers gave both groups the placebo. The intent was to measure the parents’ expectation of what might happen. And interestingly, mothers who were told their boys received a high dose of sugar rated the children as far more hyperactive.

At a party, when kids are having fun they inevitably get more excited. That’s usually followed by over-tired and cranky. As a parent, I tend to look at how much sugary stuff they’ve had and assume a link. And I’m not alone. Parents who believe this link exists believe they see it.

While research shows that sugar may not be linked to hyperactivity, there is a definite link to obesity, diabetes, cavities and host of other health issues for our kids. The rise of artificial sweeteners should raise the alarm too, as these chemicals may be equally as harmful to our children’s health. As parents, it is our responsibility to make sure our kids understand that while having a sugary treat is okay sometimes, having a balanced diet supports having fun all the time.

Want to read more on this topic? Here are some links to explore:

Does Sugar Really Make You Kids Hyper?

New Evidence for a Direct Sugar-Diabets Link

Sugar doesn’t make kids hyper and other parenting myths

Does Sugar Make Kids Hyper?




Beech Tree ES Kicks Off 2017 with New Salad Bar


Beech Tree ES is the latest elementary school to join the FCPS Salad Bar Family with its opening on January 11. Students were anxiously awaiting the opening when they returned from the Winter Break.

Cafeteria Host “Miss Amy” shared that the students lined up at the cafeteria doors each day asking “is it today???” As with previous salad bar openings, some students took modest amounts while others piled their plates with fresh lettuce, chicken, grapes, cheese and carrots.


Miss Amy, who has been cafeteria host for six years, said this is one of the most exciting things to happen on her watch. She noted that, in the past, fruits and vegetables the students were required to take often ended up in the trash, but with the salad bar she was seeing many kids take big servings and very little waste. “When they get to choose what they like, they take more.”

Ten more salad bars will open this school year. The next will be Hutchison ES on January 25. Thirty-two salad bars are slated for opening next year. Real Food for Kids will play a continuing role in supporting FCPS Food and Nutrition Services with these openings.

For more information on requesting a salad bar at your school or support your school with an upcoming opening, email

“Pear”ing Up with RFFK Alexandria

img_1042Last month, Real Food for Kids Alexandria hosted a food tasting at Mount Vernon Community School. Fresh, local pears donated by Toigo Orchards were given to students to try out as a healthy snack during lunch time.

Kids raved about the sweet, crunchy, juicy snack. RFFK Alexandria is holding similar food tastings throughout Alexandria City Public Schools on a quarterly basis.

Watch a video of the pear tasting.

For more information on the Real Food for Kids Alexandria chapter, email

SPOTLIGHT: Real Food for Kids Alexandria

cafeteriahallway-croppedCharles Barrett Elementary School, one of eight in the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) system, launched the first “Greens & More Bar” last October. ACPS plans to implement Greens & More Bars at all elementary schools in the district as part of grant-funded program.

Now every Barrett student who goes through the lunch line is served a hot entrée and then steps over to the Greens & More Bar to select whichever fruits and vegetables they wish. Although some students opt only for the vegetable or juice in the lunch line, most head to the salad bar to load up on fresh options. Barrett cafeteria manager, Dawn Lendino, says right now kids prefer fruits over vegetables with their favorite items being apple and orange slices, cucumbers and lettuce.

sethnancyincostumeReal Food for Kids Alexandria assisted ACPS with the rollout of Greens & More by building excitement for the launch. Students decorated empty walls outside the cafeteria with vegetable-themed drawings and during the first week the bar was open, parents helped students acclimate to the new process, such as reminding them to sanitize their hands and how to use utensils correctly and hygienically. But most fun was the student incentive – RFFK Alexandria promised that if all students tried the salad bar, their principals would dress up as vegetables!

For more information on the Real Food for Kids Alexandria chapter, send an email to

Service Learning with Real Food for Kids


RFFK participated in the first FCPS Service Learning Fair at West Potomac HS on January 12. The purpose of the fair was to introduce students to local non-profits with whom they might establish a service learning project. Different from service “hours,” or volunteer time that all students must complete, service learning offers an enriched, authentic learning experience that meets a community need, forming a deeper connection that resonates long after the service is complete.

Students presented RFFK with a variety of interests from sports to nursing to working with kids, all of which can tie into a service learning project benefiting the work we do in the community. If you have a student with an interest in exploring a service learning opportunity with us, please contact us,

SNAC: Student Nutrition Advisory Council

Students! Do you want to…

  • Impact food served to over 186,000 students in Fairfax County?
  • Work on issues that could impact our region?
  • Have fun tasting new ideas?

RFFK Student Representative, Suzie Bae, who launched her student school food blog in December (see related post), has started the Student Nutrition Advisory Council with a group of students from several FCPS high schools.The council seeks to advocate for more nutritious options in school food to be available on a daily basis.

Their first project is the development of a student survey to gather feedback and suggestions from students regarding school food. The survey will launch January 30. If you are a student interested in assisting with the survey or being a part of SNAC, please contact Suzie Bae to get involved.

Power Plates!

Virginia PTA Student Recipe Contest


Are you a student who loves to cook and share your creations?

Is your PTA looking for a way to engage students in a healthy habits program?

The Virginia PTA is once again holding its Power Plates Student Recipe Program designed to encourage culinary exploration at home and spread the word about healthy food choices through original recipes. Students in grades K-12, participating through a local PTA/PTSA, are eligible to compete in five categories – breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner entrée or side dish, and dessert. Entrants must submit their recipe, photo and entry form by Friday, February 24, 2017.

Each entry must be original and conform to USDA MyPlate guidelines. Please read the submission information, found at the link below, carefully. Student finalists will be recognized at the Student Awards Ceremony on April 30, 2017.

Power Plates Flyer, Rules and Entry Form

It’s the Most Special Thing!”

FCPS Welcomes Three New Schools to the Salad Bar Community

Aldrin, Riverside and White Oaks elementary schools joined the FCPS salad bar community with their openings in November and December. Food services staff worked tirelessly on the first days to ensure trays of fresh fruits and veggies were kept full to satisfy hungry students eager to try their favorite foods or something new and different.


A Riverside Student Loads His Plate at the New Salad Bar

Aldrin students, with help from cafeteria staff and PTA volunteers, were excited about the hard-boiled eggs and corn. Hunter Mill District School Board Member, Pat Hynes, stopped in to observe the opening. “It was exciting to see the salad bar at work! Students of all ages took their choice of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, then went through the hot food line. I was impressed that the kids had been “trained” ahead of time by FNS staff in how to pick the right amount, and I saw very little waste at the tables.” Hynes also said it was a “beautiful bonus” to see the new compostable cardboard trays instead of the former pink Styrofoam ones, which have now been officially phased out of use in FCPS cafeterias.


Aldrin Students Dress Their Salads

One Riverside student asked “Is the salad bar never going away?” and was delighted to know it would be available every day. Salad bars now replace the fruits and vegetables previously picked up in the serving line. The benefit is that students self-select, a process studies show increases the amount they choose and consume. A student from El Salvador was excited to see jimaca on the salad bar, an unfamiliar vegetable to many in North America. “It’s the most special thing in my country,” she shared.


Salad Prep in the Kitchen at White Oaks

White Oaks parents, looking forward to the salad bar, even volunteered at the assembly to see how kids were trained in safety, process and etiquette. And more were on hand to help students remember the instructions on opening day.

White Oaks wraps up the salad bar installations for 2016. Twelve more salad bars are planned between January and May 2017, with 31 planned to open in the 2017-2018 school year.

Christie St. Pierre, FCPS Farm to School Coordinator with the “lunch ladies” at Riverside

Q&A with Suzie Bae

Real Food for Kids Student Representative…and Blogger

suzie-bae-croppedSuzie Bae, a senior at Thomas Jefferson HS, is an advocate for healthy school food. In addition to serving as a representative to the 10th Congressional District Young Women Leadership Program and member of Youth Leadership of Greater Washington, Bae is also a MUN Senator, NHS Vice President, Korean school tutor and Hanley Family Shelter volunteer. She recently joined the board of Real Food for Kids as a student representative. Her blog,, launched last month.

RFFK: Why did you feel the need to create this RFFK blog?

Bae: I wanted this blog to consolidate information from both my work on the board and my experience with school food as a student. Considering that Fairfax County consists of over 180,000 students, I felt a blog would be one of the best ways of sharing what’s happening with RFFK and the county food services team with a broader student community.

RFFK: What’s been the response so far? 

Bae: Although I only started the blog a little over a month ago, several students have contacted me expressing their interest in joining the student health advocacy board. I’m still working to ensure that I have as many audience members as possible so that people are receiving the updates they need, and am hoping to reach at least 50 blog viewers/readers by the end of this month.

RFFK: How do you plan to promote your blog?

Bae: Aside from having contacted School Board members such as Mr. [Ryan] McElveen to assist me with blog promotion, I’ve also been keeping in close touch with Laura Chu, the student representative to the School Board. She’s been promoting the blog, along with a student health advocacy board that is in the works, during public school board meetings.

RFFK: What are your plans after leaving TJ?

Bae: I plan to study Policy Analysis and International Relations in college. I’m hoping to hear soon on an early decision application with a school with a world-renowned food studies program. So I’ll be staying involved with nutrition.

Suzie Bae was interviewed by Real Food for Kids Program Associate Colette Worm