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Appleton Kids Laud Locally-Made Health Food
Changing eating habits helped boost energy, concentration

Amy Weaver
Harold Times Reporter, May 13, 2001

Appleton - The students at Appleton's alternative high school admit they used to drink lots of soda pop and eat potato chips for lunch, and be so tired from a lack of healthy food that they couldn't concentrate, or would even fall asleep in class.

But that was three years ago, before Natural Ovens of Manitowoc started a nutrition program that changed those poor eating habits into healthy ones.

Barbara Stitt and her husband Paul, owners of Natural Ovens, have been preaching healthy eating habits to 70 classrooms in three states, each year for seven years.

But more recently, they have worked with schools like Appleton Central

The Peak Performance program at ACAS meant the installation of a new kitchen, cooks, and fresh foods and breads, and removal of the soda and candy machines.

Students and staff would have [flax-enriched] bagels or bread in the morning with a flax energy drink, a nutritious lunch with fruits and vegetables, and a snack with flax in the afternoon.

"We wanted to show the difference you could make when you have fresh whole foods served to students," Barbara Stitt said.

And the difference was tremendous. Not only were the students making healthier food choices, but they were more focused in school. This was no surprise to Stitt, but to staff members like ACAS dean of students Greg Bretthauer, it only made perfect sense.

Just as a car runs better on gasoline than water, so does a student who eats fruits and breads, instead of fatty, fried foods.

"It's so simple," he said.

Stitt said she knew what the outcome of the program would be because she had seen previous results. Before coming to Wisconsin, Stitt was a probation officer for 20 years in Ohio. There she found that correcting the diet worked best at helping to correct behavior.

Over 12 years, 80 percent of her 5,000 probationers did not get back into trouble, she said. Bretthauer said students at ACAS were initially apprehensive because it's so hard to break old habits, but they eventually got on to the concept.

"They love it because they could get a filling meal that gives them sustaining, calm energy," Stitt said. "It doesn't make them sleepy or irritable."

Junk food, containing little or no nutritional value, made the students rude, tired, hyper, and even violent, Stitt said. Bretthauer remembered considering a job at ACAS five years ago, but the students were so "out of control" he didn't want to.

But by making subtle changes in everyone's diet, Stitt said students and teachers noticed a dramatic change.

With the candy and soda machines removed and healthy alternatives added, the 100-member student body was more well-adjusted. Such a change was even more obvious when the school would go on an "Unbalanced Diet Week." Stitt said this was done so the students would see why, so they could understand the connection between behavior and eating.

"I couldn't concentrate and was in a bad mood when we had no flax or bagels [which contain flax]" a student said.

"When we didn't have the flax drink and bagels I got hungry about 10:30 in the morning, even though I ate breakfast before coming to work," a staff member said. "I found myself eating junk food and candy to hold me over until lunch and dinner. I also have minor dizziness throughout the week."

Teacher Mary Bruyette reported curing the first year of the program that students and staff noticed an increased ability to concentrate, to think more clearly, less health complaints, fewer discipline referrals, decreased tardiness, reduced feeling of hunger, less moodiness, and more practice of good nutrition outside of school.

But when the good food was taken away for a week, she said tardiness increased considerably and students and staff were moody and irritable. By the end of the week, staff had heard numerous student complaints about fatigue, headaches, and stomach aches, and staff complained that students were less patient with each other and with teachers.

"Students viewed the week as some type of punishment," Bruyette said.

The concept of healthy eating has caught on outside of ACAS. The rest of the Appleton Area School District isn't participating in the program, but Bretthauer said two middle schools have cut out all their snack food machines and made changes in food service to encourage healthier eating. [As of 2004, the school district plans to make the same changes in all 23 schools in the district, which serve 15,000 students!]

Stitt said the program just got started at a detention facility in Rockford, Ill, but she is looking into putting the program in Valparaiso, Indiana, a military school, and a school in Florida.

Although Natural Ovens has worked with an average of 70 classrooms in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota from 1993-2000, the classrooms were reduced this year to 26 because they were working with the Rockford facility, a detention facility in Milwaukee, and a grade school in inner city Milwaukee, plus continuing the program at ACAS.

Stitt finds it ironic that schools are always pushing for a computer for every desk, but the most important computer --the brain-is being overlooked way too often.

Administrators and teachers are sometimes so caught up in testing that they forget it all starts with food, Bretthauer said.

"Children are our future. They should be the most nourished," Stitt said. "If they're not, the brain doesn't perform."

Although many cash strapped school districts use the revenue made from soda machines to pay for anything from athletic equipment to field trips, Stitt said it's not worth it to risk the poor health of today's youth.

Some studies link a poor diet to obesity among today's youth and to calcium deficiency, which leads to increased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

"We can no longer make money on what causes harm to our children," Stitt said.


Lauren Ayers

James Curiel, PhD
Professor, Sociology

Don Glines
Educational Futures

Hasan Hanks

Jeanie Keltner, PhD
Editor, Because People Matter

Michael J. Kwiker, D.O.

William Mora, M.D.
Health Associates Medical Group

Susan Montoya

Cynthia Mulcaire

Carlina Nowrocki

Robert O’Brien, MA

Suiying Saechao
Member LEAF at Hiram Johnson HS

Charity Smith
President Youth Congress at Sac High