Athens Community Celebrates National Nutrition Month with School Lunch Challenge

March is National Nutrition Month®, and the Athens community is celebrating with the annual School Lunch Challenge. On Saturday, March 18, local Athens chefs will create tasty dishes that meet USDA requirements for the National School Lunch Program.

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The theme for 2017 is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which acts as a reminder that each bite counts.

Recent studies have demonstrated that nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health—all factors that impact academic performance. Access to nutrition can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression, decrease discipline problems, and improve academic outcomes.

Building on increased interest in the National School Lunch Program, and inspired by the 2014 exhibition, “Food, Power, Politics: The Story of School Lunch,” the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies and others partnered in 2015 to create a fun, educational event to engage the Athens community with the past, present, and future of school lunch.

“Richard Russell co-sponsored the legislation which created the National School Lunch Program in 1946. We are glad to host this event, now an annual happening that draws attention to the NSLP today,” said organizer Jan Hebbard, outreach archivist at the Russell Library.

The 2017 event will offer 200 free tickets to the general public, and offer hands-on activities and cooking demonstrations. Attendees will have a chance to sample the creations at the cooking competition from 12-1:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Whitehead Road Elementary School. Participating teams, advised by nutritionists from the Clarke County School District (CCSD), are invited to create dishes in accordance with USDA guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.

A panel of student judges drawn from CCSD schools will vote to determine an overall winner. The winning team’s plate will be incorporated into the CCSD school lunch menu during the 2017-2018 school year.

Last year, a team made up of family and consumer science teachers from the Clarke County School District (CCSD) was voted the overall winner by student judges. The CCSD teachers will return to defend their title against new competitors Tacqueria del Sol, Last Resort, and The Place.

A variety of organizations connected to sustainable agriculture, community gardens, childhood nutrition, and farm-to-school programs in the Athens area will host information tables at the event. A display of historical documents and artifacts related to the history of the National School Lunch Program will also be on display.

The event is free and open to the public but attendance will be capped at 200 people. Tickets are available beginning February 24 through the Eventbrite website. Attendees are encouraged to bring donation items to benefit the Food 2 Kids program operated by the Foodbank of Northeast Georgia. Requested items include beans-n-franks (pop-top cans) and jars of peanut butter.

The 2016 School Lunch Challenge is sponsored by the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, the Clarke County School District, the Athens Land Trust, Athens Farm to School, UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Department of Foods and Nutrition, The Fresh Market, Earthfare, Seed Life Skills, and Heirloom Café.

Jan Levinson Hebbard, (706) 542-5788