The Secret to Better Grades: Upgrade the School Lunch

Progressive Health
Summer 2003

The Secret to Better Grades: Upgrade the School Lunch

Wisconsin School Project Proves
a Healthy Diet Works Wonders

Walk down the hallways of the Appleton, Wisconsin, Central Alternative High School and you will see students interacting successfully with each other and with their teachers. Notice the calmness and purposefulness that sets these teens apart.

The hallways aren't lined with soft drink and junk food machines. There is no smell of grease in the cafeteria. Burgers, fries and burritos have been replaced with salads, meats prepared with old fashioned recipes and whole grain breads. Fresh fruits and vegetables are offered and the students drink water.

Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching. What's going on in Appleton, Wisconsin? A five-year project to bring healthy food into area schools, initiated in 1997 by Natural Ovens of Manitowoc, WI. Its goal: to show that fresh, nutritious food can make a real difference in student's behavior, learning and health.

The results are astounding. Since the start of the program, no students have dropped out, been expelled, been found using drugs, carrying weapons, or have committed suicide, states Principal LuAnn Coenen, who files annual reports with the state of Wisconsin.

Mary Bruyette, a teacher, reports that the students are now calm and well behaved. "If you've been guzzling Mountain Dew and eating chips and you're flying all over the place, I don't think you're going to pick up a whole lot in class. I don't have to deal with the daily discipline issues; that just isn't an issue here. Our biggest problems now at the school are parking in the parking lot and student tardiness. I don't have the disruptions in class or the difficulties with student behavior that I experienced before we started the food program."

One student says, "Now that I concentrate, I think it is easier to get along with people 'cause now I'm paying attention to what they have to say."

Dr. Thomas Scullen, Superintendent of the Appleton Area School District, had expected that the healthy diet would improve behavior, but he was pleasantly surprised that it has had such an impact on academic performance.

Followers of the Feingold Program would not have been so surprised. Since 1976, the Feingold Association ( has worked to "generate public awareness of the potent role of foods and synthetic additives in behavior, learning, and health problems. {The Feingold} program is based on a diet eliminating synthetic colors, synthetic flavors, and the preservatives BHA, BHT, and TBHQ."

Once children on the Feingold Program have made the connection between food, behavior and learning, they tend to prefer to enjoy the benefits. As one Appleton student remarked, "I really like the food. It tastes good, it's hot, it's fresh."

Many of the changes are being phased into Appleton's middle and elementary schools. Fred Ginnochio, a middle school principal, reports not having one incident all year involving shoving, a fight, aggressive behavior. Dennis Abrahm, who has taught science for almost 30 years, finds the students calmer and more rational. "I had thought about retiring this year and basically I've decided to teach another year — I'm having too much fun!" Candy machines are gone and pop machines are being replaced with juice machines or water coolers. There is a district-wide commitment to healthier eating and lifestyle in general.

Dr. Scullen sees an eventual switch over in all of Appleton's schools. "It can take several years to make the transition. The program will sell itself on its own merits, given the time. I think that instead of looking at the food program as a "break-even," we have to take a look at what we have to put in to make it really good for the kids."

Natural Ovens underwrote the cost for their five-year study that will eventually impact 200 Wisconsin schools. The price is around $20,000 a year, notes Natural Oven President, Dr. Barbara Reed Stitt, who adds, "One child arrested would cost the schools more."

Dr. Scullen concurs, "If it results in a happier kid, improved learning, and ultimately a better community, then it's a cost we cannot avoid. It's something we must do."

For more information on the Appleton, Wisconsin school project,
contact Natural Ovens at (800) 558-3535. A short video, Impact of
Fresh, Healthy Foods on Learning and Behavior – 2002, is available from
Natural Press, P.O. Box 730, Manitowoc, WI 54221-0730 for $10.
including shipping and handling.


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