By Todd Martin

Special to the Hood Herald

Giving students healthier food choices and teaching about nutrition at school won Clarke Elementary School on Fort Hood a national honor and two employees a trip to the White House.

The school's nutrition manager, Vanisse Higginbotham, and Killeen Independent School District nutrition supervisor Anethia Coffey are scheduled to participate in a celebration at the White House on Monday.

The two were instrumental in implementing a healthier menu at the school last year, resulting in a HealthierUS School Challenge Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to adding whole grain foods, as well as fresh vegetables and other healthy foods, the school incorporated instruction about nutrition during physical education classes.

Last school year, Clarke's kitchen staff began serving more whole grain and wheat products, more green and orange fresh vegetables, romaine lettuce and sweet potato fries.

This year, the school is continuing to substitute healthier items to its breakfast and lunch menus and 10 more district schools are making the switch to higher fiber, low sodium menus with more fresh salads and vegetables.

Steve Murphy, KISD director of school nutrition, presented a framed letter from First Lady Michelle Obama to the Fort Hood school in the Clarke cafeteria on Oct. 5.

He said the changes are important given the statistics that show 42 percent of Texas children are overweight or obese.

"It's exciting because we're serving extremely nutritious and tasty food to children," Murphy said. "We're feeding students while they are developing their taste for food," he pointed out.

Higginbotham, a nine-year KISD employee was in her second year as a school cafeteria manager last year when the school implemented the changes. She said she was impressed how students adjusted to the new foods.

Before introducing new foods, the nutrition staff members conducted sample taste testing to see what foods students would accept.

In gym classes, Clarke students learned through games the importance of eating from a variety of food groups.

Clarke Elementary won a bronze medal in the healthy schools program, earning the school nutrition department $500. The award scale goes up to $2,000.

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