Minding the peas and q’s in school lunches

Students finding new menus in local school cafeterias.

By: Donna Lukiw
   Triangle Elementary School students had to resist a table filled with hotdogs, sodas and potato chips, and choose the apples and pretzels as part of a lesson on nutrition Monday.
   The display was part of an assembly organized by the district’s food service provider, Sodexho, and is being repeated throughout Hillsborough schools.
   Michelle Santrizos, general manager of Sodexho, explained to the students the importance of eating fruits and vegetables rather than chips and fried foods and how the district has changed its menus in the school cafeterias.
   "I learned that some foods are good for you, like baked potato, but it’s what you put on it that makes it bad," fourth-grader Richa Lagu said. "I eat lots of vegetables for dinner and I usually have fruit for snacks."
   Hillsborough schools have adopted new policies addressing student nutrition and physical activity to meet the new state and federal requirements regarding school food choices.
   As of June 2005, former acting-Gov. Richard Codey and the New Jersey School Boards Association announced a new state policy limiting the sale of soda, candy or junk food in schools.
   According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the Model School Nutrition Policy requires every school district to develop a comprehensive nutrition policy by September 2007 that will promote healthy eating habits and provide students with nutritional foods in the cafeteria and vending machines.
   The new guidelines include all grade levels and applies to foods being sold in the cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars, school stores, fundraisers and a la carte lines.
   According to the new policy, during the school day, schools may not serve, sell or give out candy or soda, food or drinks listing sugar in any form as the main ingredient or any foods of minimal nutritional value as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
   Also, all snacks and beverages cannot contain more than 8 grams of total fat per serving, and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. Beverages cannot exceed 12 ounces, except for water or 2 percent milk, and servings of whole milk cannot be larger than 8 ounces.
   Each school’s curriculum must also include nutrition education.
   Students will be allowed to pack sweets and snacks in their lunches they bring from home.
   "Since last year, we’ve been doing a healthy fruit and vegetable of the month," Ms. Santrizos said. "We rarely serve fries at elementary schools. If we serve fries, they’re baked."
   But the new rules may have forced a change to the most staple of grade-school foods: Sodexho has also started making grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
   School lunches also offer only milk or juice, rather than sodas.