Power Picks – Fueling Your Body for the School Day

By Brittany Lightsey, MS, RD, LD

Did you know our schools right here in Chatham County serve delicious and nutritious food, every day? That’s right, every day! This registered dietitian approves and supports the combinations of fruits and vegetables in your child’s school.  In fact, in 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act guidelines were put into place, encouraging healthier meals for students everywhere, and our friends in school nutrition are excelling!

Chatham County school lunches now feature:

  • More whole grains – breads, pastas, cereal and more.
  • More nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. There are more dark green and Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sproutsred/orange fruits and vegetables and legumes offered weekly.
  • Fresh, whole fruit choices. Only one 4 oz. 100 percent juice carton is offered per week.
  • Foods prepared with little or no added salt.
  • The menu is overall lower in saturated fat (plus, zero trans fats), lower in sodium and sugar, and higher in fiber.

Taking it one step further – Introducing Power Picks

Still, cafeteria staples like pizza and french fries are served to please the general population.  So I asked myself, how can a child, a student in our county, make the healthy choice each day? How can a third-grader be encouraged to choose a salad over chicken tenders?  Out of these thoughts, the Power Pick Program was born.  I am attempting to make it simple, by advertising healthy options of “power picks” right on the school lunch line.  The goal of the program is to empower students to make the healthy choice, by making the healthy choice easy to identify based on simple advertising. It is designed to motivate and equip children to consume a nutritious meal during the school day. Will this mean salads everyday? No, it is not realistic for this dietitian to encourage your child to eat salad every day of the week. Kids will be kids! Each month, I review the school menu and choose the healthiest combination of school foods for the day. Through a generous grant from Healthy Savannah, we were able to purchase Power Pick whiteboards for 18 schools across the county. For those without whiteboards, cafeteria managers print out a handout and hang it on the lunch line each day. Easy enough, right?

A few of my favorite Power Picks, you ask? The hummus, cheese and veggie plate, tomato basil zucchini, and the turkey and cranberry chef salad are always winners for me. If only school lunches had been this flavorful when I was in school…

 Recipe of the Month

Butternut Smash

Did you know that Savannah Chatham schools have “Try It Tuesday?” One Tuesday of each month, cafeterias feature a new recipe. Last month, roasted Brussels sprouts were featured across the county. Before that? Blood oranges. Your children are being introduced to delicious and nutritious fruits and veggies and seeing their friends eat it. Guess what? That means they are more likely to try them, too. Even better news for you? Research says that it takes up to 15 to 20 (maybe more?) tries of seeing a food before they learn to like it. That’s a few more times at school, taking some stress off of you, Mom.

This month’s Try It Tuesday features butternut squash. Encourage your kiddos to try it and make it at home.  Butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamins A and C as well as a good source of fiber and potassium.  Delicious and nutritious – my favorite!

 Butternut Smash

Recipe adapted from SCCPSS’ School Nutrition Program Chef, Kimberly Kinsaul


1 butternut squash

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil* or butter (plus more for brushing squash)

*Extra virgin olive oil provides heart healthy fats and antioxidants for a nutritious boost

Fresh oregano

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise and scrape out seeds. Brush with olive oil and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until squash is tender all the way through, about 35-45 minutes.
  3. Once squash is roasted, scrape it out of the skin. Add to large pot.
  4. “Mash” with remaining oil or butter.

**To save time, purchase frozen butternut squash puree and heat over stovetop. Add a little oil or butter for flavor, and top with fresh oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

Butternut Smash

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