School district gets state award for nutrition program

HARLINGEN — Kids don’t just stop eating when school lets out for the summer.

Neither does the Harlingen school district stop feeding them.

The district this summer made a vigorous effort to provide balanced meals to local school kids and teaching them about proper nutrition. Those efforts caught the attention of the Texas Department of Agriculture. The district’s nutrition department has once again earned TDA’s Best of the Brunch Award in the 2019 Farm Fresh Challenge for the Summer Meal Program.

“I’m very happy,” said Lionel Vega, the district’s new registered dietitian.

“This is my first year participating with the district but I feel very happy that we were able to achieve our goals and get our award,” he said.

The district had to meet three criteria to earn the award: eat local, teach local and be social. District officials met the criteria at locations where children participated in the summer feeding program.

“We had the opportunity to bring in items grown in Texas, from greens, chickens, fruits, from our milk,” he said. “We have people who teach our students on the line and in just a dining setting. We were able to teach them about Texas produce.”

In other words, the kids learned while they ate about what they were eating.

“The social part was we had to post on social media that we were doing this,” he said. “We had some pictures and things like that, where our staff were interacting with our children.”

The nutrition education took place at about 40 locations where students were having summer meals, including schools and parks, said Judy Baker, director of child nutrition for the district.

“We also provided the educational opportunities out at our mobile sites during the summer,” she said. “We had mobile feeding vans out at the mobile home parks and apartment complexes.”

This is a great way for Vega to start in his new position as dietitian.

“I enjoy just being able to feed the kids and just the challenge of working with certain items like school nutrition criteria and being able to come up with a menu that the kids like,” he said. “It’s a great challenge and I look forward to that every day. It keeps me thinking, keeps me researching, keeps me fresh.”