When Aaron Marks sent his son Murray to College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, he was stunned to learn what the school served for breakfast.
Instead of sitting back and saying nothing, Marks stepped up with a group of parents and in three short years, changed the way the City Schools of Decatur school system looks at its school breakfast and lunch menus.
It earned Marks a ticket to see First Lady Michelle Obama speak about her Let's Move campaign on Wednesday and a mention in her speech on obesity and nutrition.
"You just can't take no for an answer. You have to be tenacious," Marks was quoted as saying in the First Lady's speech at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta.
It all began when Marks learned one day that College Heights was serving "fortified" doughnuts, breakfast pizza and other unhealthy options to preschoolers and his toddler, age 2 at the time.
These food items were shocking to parents, including Marks, because many toddlers - ages 1 and 2 - were eating these items, and other foods, including fried fish sticks, nuggets and other items, for the first time in their young lives.
"I couldn't believe the school was doing that and serving those items," Marks said.
At the time, College Heights was in its infancy as well, having been formed as part of a City Schools of Decatur partnership with the Decatur-DeKalb YMCA, which ran the preschool, after school and summer camps programs.
"The parents agreed with me," Marks said. "They told me 'that’s why my child brings their own lunch.' That was their answer."
So Marks and a group of concerned parents, including Lucia Pawloski, then on the PTA, took action.
They formed a school committee to look more deeply at school nutrition and began planning how to change the food at College Heights.
What these parents found out was startling: this type of food was being served to children throughout the school system.
Marks even snapped photos of the breakfast pizza as proof and he took the findings to City Schools of Decatur Superintendent Phyllis Edwards.
The nutrition committee also raised funds for a school garden from the College Heights' first-ever cookbook effort.
Marks and other nutrition committee members also went shopping with the College Heights preschool director to help come up with a new list of snacks for the children, such as yogurt instead of canned fruit in sugar-laden syrup.
Around the same time, Pawloski helped to launch the Decatur Farm to School initiative, which works with the city's schools and the community to integrate gardens and local farm produce into the curriculum, has helped to push some of these recent changes. Farm to School is connected now with the Oakhurst Community Garden.
City Schools of Decatur lunch and breakfast menus have since seen a sea change of offerings. There's more baked chicken and fresh fruits and vegetables. And there's no more "fortified" doughnuts or breakfast pizza.
City Schools of Decatur also recently received $6,000 in funding from the Great American Salad Bar Project for three portable salad bars to be installed at Glennwood Academy, Renfroe Middle and Decatur High schools.
"There was a tremendous amout of work done by people who didn’t care about credit," Marks said. "At the end of the day, the food was not as good as the kids should be getting and wasn't what I would feed my own children."