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Joni Woolf — Larry Jackson: Half the man he used to be

When the scales topped 300 pounds, Larry Jackson knew it was time to take control of his diet — and his life. Learning that he suffered from diabetes, a disease that can be life-changing if not life-threatening, Jackson put himself on a new life course, one in which he has been remarkably successful.
“I was in my late 40s; I wanted to see my children graduate,” he says, smiling.
At a trim 150 pounds, with diabetes safely under control, he finds himself in a new career that provides opportunity to use those life lessons to help others.
Those “others: include the  school children who eat breakfast and lunch at the new Furlow Charter School, where Jackson serves as School Nutrition manager. Though the menus are created by Martha Harvey, director of Nutrition for the Sumter County school system, the meals are prepared at the school, where students from kindergarten  through eighth grade eat every day. In addition to the 400 Furlow students, 200 Head Start students, housed in the same building, share the lunch room. Children with food allergies are  identified by personal I.D. numbers and the foods they select are monitored to make sure no child eats a food that can result in an allergic reaction. Jackson knows all of them, knows the foods they are allergic to. He knows also if there are religious reasons that dictate what they can or cannot eat and helps them select appropriately.
“We send a form to the parents on the first day of school,” he says, “asking for information about allergies. It’s important to know right away.”
Unlike the “old days” when children had no choices, but were served whatever the staff came up with on any given day, today’s school lunches have requirements about the amount of protein and fat that a school diet can contain. For instance, the breakfasts that are served in the classrooms are whole grain muffins, whole grain cereal, juice and pancake puffs.
“They love the pancake puffs,” Jackson says, smiling.
Touring the kitchen and lunchroom facilities at Furlow is an education in itself. High-tech equipment, recently mopped and cleaned floors, and staff moving quickly about to ready the kitchen for the next day’s work are testimony to how things have changed in recent years. A school kitchen is no longer a two- or three man-or-woman operation. Caring for the health and nutrition needs of so many individual students is the full-time responsibility of an educated and informed staff — from the central office down to the local lunchroom. Larry Jackson is proud to be a part of this remarkable team.
Talking about his personal eating habits to keep his diabetes under control, Jackson says he avoids carbohydrates, sugar and white flour. And he walks. He exercises. He takes care of himself, and tries to model the behavior for young students. Asked for a recipe that would be healthy AND delicious, he provided the following:

EASY LEMON     CHICKEN
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
12 ounces chicken breast tenders, cut in thirds
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon SPLENDA, low-calorie sweetener
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup red bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch strips
1/2 cup green bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch strips
Mix 1 tsp. cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. soy sauce in a small mixing bowl. Add sliced chicken tenders. Place in refrigerator and marinate 10 minutes. Stir the lemon juice, 1/2 cup soy sauce, chicken broth, ginger, garlic, SPLENDA and 1 tsp. cornstarch together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Heal oil in a medium frying pan. Add chicken and cook over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until just done. Add sauce and sliced peppers. Cook 1-2 minutes more or until sauce thickens and peppers are slightly tender.

Establishing good eating and exercise habits are essential for a long, healthy life. Larry Jackson is modeling the kind of behavior that will help his proteges develop not only good habits — but a positive outlook on life, on friends, on school. And he is doing it one day at a time. In a school lunchroom.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net