BY MARGARET MORGON
When New Jersey’s children head back to school this week, their lunches will be a lot more nutritious than they used to be. New government nutrition standards for school meals go into effect in September.
Rose Tricario, the Director of the Division of Food and Nutrition at the Jersey Department of Agriculture, said, “Lunch menus this year will now feature more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and only fat-free flavored or 1 percent white milk, and additionally, school districts must meet strict limits on saturated fat and portion size – with special attention to age-appropriate calorie limits.” According to Tricario, some of the menu items children have seen in the past have been reformulated.
“So pizzas might have whole wheat crusts – they will have reduced fat cheese, chicken nuggets will have a whole grain coating…The end result of all this is we’re going to have healthier children who will take what they learn about eating well into their adult lives – we want to teach them to make healthier choices.”
Tricario added, “The staff from the Division of Food and Nutrition has been conducting workshops and webinars to assist food service directors in meeting the new changes, and helping them with compliance…We’ve actually participated with the New Jersey School Nutrition Association at their conference recently and we’ve provided some workshops there to the participants of the conference.”
The changes will only affect the lunch menu right now, Tricario said. “The prior regulations covering breakfast also had a policy that regulated the snacks being served. These regulations are part of the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act, and there are different provisions of the Act that will be phased in over time- so next we’ll be talking about changes to breakfasts and snacks as part of this.”
Tricario also stressed, “All these changes involve the entire school community – they involve not only the food service staff, but it involves the faculty, the staff in the schools, the administration and most importantly parents and guardians of the children- so that we incorporate all of the healthy choices – not only at school, but also at home.”
At Sickles Market in Little Silver, Cheri Scolari, a culinary specialist, offers suggestions to parents for easy-to-prepare healthy snacks that are, not only delicious, but visually appetizing to children.
Some of her suggestions are:
Bola granola: organic and handmade in the Berkshires, containing 20% almonds and pepitas, 20% daily fiber and 10 grams protein. You can add dried fruits or dark/semi-sweet chocolate chips to this crunchy, tasty snack.
Peanut Butter &Co.’s Smooth Operator Peanut Butter and Apples: an all-natural peanut butter that is creamy and mixed (not separated), just the way kids like it. Peanut butter is high in protein and a healthy fat for your heart.
Dried fruit: Dried Cantaloupe, Dried Mango, Dried Pluots, Dried Blueberries and/or Cherries: these bright color-enriched fruits are heart healthy containing beta carotene, anti-oxidants, and many vitamins.
Jersey Fresh peaches or nectarines with Greek yogurt, fresh ricotta or mascarpone drizzled with local Herbertsville Honey: Peaches are rich in fiber, vitamin A and C. Yogurt has calcium and healthy probiotics, and the local honey has allergy benefits with lots of vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids.
Jersey Fresh produce: Cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, kumquats, grapes and cheese cubed up to serve with either fruits or veggies. Cheese is rich in calcium and protein as well as vitamins like A and vitamin B12.“Our professionals love sharing their knowledge and we have a hungry, savvy customer base ready to learn,” said Bob Sickles, 3rd generation owner of Sickles Market. “We are working hard to help Moms bring vegetables and fruits from the back burner to the front burner. It’s easy to provide healthy snacks for children when they taste and look great.”
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