Annandale Terrace Shows Off Learning Garden, Revamped Lunch Menu to USDA Secretary Vilsack
Annandale Terrace Elementary School second-graders had a federal agency chief join them in the lunch line today: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack plunked down at a round cafeteria table to bite into a chicken parmesan sandwich, a recent add to Fairfax County Public Schools’ lunch menu.
Cafeteria Manager Rama Gundapaneni and FCPS Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Shaun Sawko made sure Vilsack knew about the “low sodium tomato sauce” featured on the sandwich, as well as the fresh basil garnish, and the fact that the secretary’s lunch tray would also feature red peppers, cucumbers, and a hard-boiled egg, now that all FCPS school lunchrooms contain salad bars.
In honor of National School Lunch Week and National Farm to School Month, USDA Chief Vilsack toured Annandale Terrace Elementary School, a school with an active learning garden that is growing beets, radishes, and red peppers that some of its families will eventually enjoy. All Annandale Terrace students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
Principal Ingrid Badia led Vilsack, FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, School Board Vice Chair Karl Frisch, and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson on a tour of Annandale Terrace’s kitchen, cafeteria, and courtyard garden.
While welcoming the group to her school, Badia explained the emphasis her school places on nutrition, mentioning that she starts each day the same way.
“For the children who walk through our front entrance each day, the first question we ask is, “Did you have breakfast today?,” Badia said. “We make sure that no child enters a classroom hungry because we know that without adequate nutrition, our students cannot learn to their full potential.”
That focus aligns with FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid’s push to increase the district’s focus on healthy school meals. Reid says she knew from the very start of her tenure she wanted to focus on boosting nutrition standards. During her first tour of an FCPS cafeteria last year, she picked up a breakfast offering, a pre-packaged muffin, and saw it had 28 grams of sugar in it.
The district will also ensure its global menu offerings go beyond orange chicken and ground beef tacos, and that more plant-based proteins appear on school lunch trays, to accommodate students who are vegan, vegetarian, or who adhere to a kosher or halal diet, Reid said.
“We will soon be saying goodbye to those heat and serve corndog bites,” Reid noted. “They do not grow anywhere naturally, I can confidently say.”
A student working in Annandale Terrace’s courtyard learning garden near where Reid was speaking said the corndog comment resonated with him.
“I can’t even eat corn dogs, so I am really looking forward to the new menu,” fifth-grader Yafet Seifu said. “I don’t eat pork. So I’m all about trying the new things.”
FCPS partnerships deserve credit for a bump in fresh, locally sourced produce appearing in school cafeterias, Fairfax County School Board Vice Chair Karl Frisch said.
USDA grant funds have been beneficial too, Frisch said, noting that in the last year alone a centralized local procurement pilot program helped FCPS to serve more than 180,000 pounds of locally grown produce in schools.
Vilsack, whose agency oversees the National School Lunch Program, said he was inspired to see the dedication to child nutrition and push to locally source fruits and vegetables.
“You come to a school like this and what do you find?” Vilsack said during remarks to a crowd in the school’s courtyard. “Dedicated educators who care about the whole kid. Not just the math, language arts, and science part of their day. People who want to make sure youngsters who come here feel good about themselves, start each day in a dedicated and healthy way.”
Read more about FCPS school menu changes.
Learn more about the Community Eligibility Provision program that makes all Annandale Terrace Elementary students eligible for free meals.