UAMS partners with local school districts to offer students healthier food choices

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is teaming up with local and nationwide school districts to help improve school lunches through the, “Creating Healthy Environments for Schools”.

According to Pearl McElfish, UAMS Office Community Health and Research director, the program pairs with school districts by creating custom meals, menus, and healthier alternatives for students.

McElfish says only 50% of school children get the required nutrients from school meals. She states most meals students get across the state are not nutritious enough, which can lead to things like diabetes and hypertension.

The CHEFS program partners with 12 school districts, with 99 schools to make nutritional changes. Those include the Springdale, Greenland, Bentonville, and West Fork districts.

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The program switches out food with less sodium, fat, and sugar with healthier options like a pizza with less sodium or chicken nuggets with less fat on school menus.

“It’s both about changing the menu so that it’s healthier, but also engaging students and families into that process so that students are eating the food,” said McElfish.

She says it also pairs with school and cafeteria staff on creating healthier options with less sodium, fat, and sugar or with items made from scratch. McElfish hopes having more options won’t just help students but it will help make it easier on school staff as well.

“So much is placed on schools from academics to their need to care for children in other ways. And so we found that we really have to make it easy and obtainable for them,” said McElfish.

McElfish says CHEFS also factor in healthier recipes for students from different backgrounds.

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