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Team Works to Improve School Nutrition

Released: Friday, May 21, 2004

BATON ROUGE - What do you get when you mix a handful of teenage girls, a premier Cajun chef and a world-class nutrition center? The recipe for success -- and healthier eating in schools, apparently.

A group of students at St. Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge has teamed up with Chef John Folse and Pennington Biomedical Research Center to cook up tasty but nutritious fare for area schools.

Working together with an initial pilot grant of $16,200, Chef Folse will create a line of healthy Louisiana soups, in collaboration with Pennington nutrition expert and food analyst, Dr. Cathy Champagne, and her associates, Dawn Turner and Marlene Afton. A large part of the St Joseph girls' job will be the critical test - to taste and critique the creations - a favorite pastime of Louisianians.

"Students will always go with foods they grew up with - foods that taste good," Folse remarked at a May 17 kickoff reception for the pilot study.

The team hopes to expand their efforts by the fall, gaining up to $60,000 to effectively create, test and eventually introduce their foods into diocesian Catholic schools and cafeterias across the country. The students will also work with Folse and his staff as they develop the recipes and a marketing plan to make them a regular menu item in area schools.

"There is enormous interest across the country in improving the healthfulness of high school cafeteria lunches, " Champagne said. "This project is unique in its partnership with high school students, its educational components and in its goal to develop a workable plan for introduction into local high schools."

Last October, St. Joseph's Academy students were pleasantly surprised when they were informed of a new menu item. Chef John Folse & Company added soups to the cafeteria salad bar each Wednesday and Friday asking students who consumed the soup to fill out an online evaluation.

"Soup days are my favorite," said St. Joseph's Academy freshman, Anne LeBlanc. "Each week we get new soups and each week the soups are absolutely delicious."

Representatives from John Folse's company and St. Joseph's then met with Dr. Catherine Champagne to try and extend the program to nutritionally enhance school lunches.

Since that original meeting, funding through the C.B. and Irene Pennington Foundation has been provided to conduct an initial pilot program. By fall 2004, the Healthy Soups for Schools Project hopes to expand its mission by introducing several new food items into the St. Joseph's lunch program, and eventually all Catholic schools in the Baton Rouge area. This larger-scale introduction would also gather information on school eating habits and nutrition.

"It's my life-long business to feed people - now we've come to a bend in the road - it's now about creating foods that make us healthier, live longer and not give up the flavor," Folse said.

Champagne, Chef Folse and the students will begin the pilot test work this summer in the kitchen and the lab.

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The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the causes of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Itis a campus of the Louisiana State University System and conducts basic, clinical and population research. The research enterprise at the Center includes approximately 80 faculty and more than 25 post-doctoral fellows who comprise a network of 50 laboratories supported by lab technicians, nurses, dieticians, and support personnel, and 19 highly specialized core service facilities.  The Center's more than 500 employees perform research activities in state-of-the-art facilities on the 234-acre campus located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.