SUMMIT, NJ - One of the growing problems in the country today is obesity. With fatty foods and fast food around every corner, people don't always make the best food choices. However, students at the Summit elementary schools showed eating healthy can be easy on Friday, Jan. 18, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's division of Food and Nutrition presented the schools with the Healthy Challenge award, which recognizes schools that promote good nutrition and physical activity.

With a packed auditorium of teachers and students, along with Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, Mayor Ellen Dickson, Superintendent Nathan Parker, representatives from Pomptonian Food Services and state officials were on hand to congratulate the children.

The challenge is a voluntary national certification initiative that encourages all schools to take a leadership role in helping students to make healthier eating and physical activity choices that last a lifetime. The schools had to submit an application for the award based on certain criteria and they were among the 50 schools in the state to earn an award.

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The Jefferson School was one of the five schools in New Jersey that received the silver award, which also earned the district $1,000. Brayton, Franklin and Lincoln Hubbard schools were recipients of the bronze awards and Summit received $500. Throughout the ceremony, students read poems and sang songs about eating healthy and teachers and administrators praised the children for their efforts.

Mayor Dickson, whose kids all went through the Summit school system, said she was quite impressed with what the youngsters accomplished. She encouraged the students to eat fruits and veggies every day and is excited for the community garden at Overlook Hospital as well.

“I want to thank you all for making Summit so proud of you,” she said.

Ron Poles, the principal at Jefferson, said their goal was to help the students understand how important it is to eat healthy and stay in shape. In the 2011 – 2012 school year, the school changed the eating and exercising habits of the children and even asked them for input on what they would like to see different with lunch. Surprisingly, instead of junk food, many of the students said they wanted fruits and vegetables added to their meals, he said.

With the community garden on campus and serving breakfast for an hour each morning, Jefferson School is doing its best to keep the kids fit, he said.

“I thought it went well,” he said. “The real crux of the message is a healthy lifestyle, good eating and good exercise.”