In 2014, I was thrilled to come on board as wellness director for Beaufort County Schools in South Carolina. My role: implementing wellness solutions that engage students. My budget: zero. It was an opportunity to find partners to help with our mission.
Building off research from the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, the Beaufort team understood when students are involved in making food decisions they are more likely to consume the food they take. I proposed make-your-own yogurt parfait bars to allow students to build breakfast from a variety of yogurt, whole grain cereals and U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved topping options, including fruit choices. An added bonus of the new equipment was the opportunity to leverage the stations as salad bars at lunch.
The program was so successful that after a two-school pilot funded by Fuel Up To Play 60, it expanded to all schools in the district using a mixture of funds from various partners. We saw increases in meal participation across all grades, with the greatest increases taking place in the middle schools. More than 27,000 portions of bone-building yogurt were served over a five-month period and the county currently serves 550 more breakfast meals per month compared to last year. High schools have since transitioned to a Grab-N’-Go yogurt parfait, consistent with the “on-the-go” solution preferences of that age group.
In March, the Southeast Dairy Association and Carolina Panthers came to celebrate the health and wellness successes and $43,500 of Fuel Up To Play 60 grant funds awarded to Beaufort County Schools. Thanks to the dairy farm families of the Southeast and a district team committed to making the most of our resources, our students’ futures look bright!
Jessica Perez, MS, RD, CSG, LD
Registered dietitian Jessica Perez serves as wellness director for Beaufort County (South Carolina) Schools. Her team provides meals for 22,000 students a day. In the last two years, Jessica secured more than $150,000 in grant funding to promote breakfast, dinner, and student wellness programs. She currently assists multiple districts in the Carolinas with wellness grant applications and works to ensure district wellness initiatives are met. Jessica is an active member of the Eat Smart, More More South Carolina coalition, which coordinates anti-obesity efforts across the state.