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Whitsons Culinary Group, a provider of food services to private...Read More

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Healthy Options for Hopkinton Students

Hopkinton

Whitsons' School Nutrition program is featured in this month's edition of the Hopkinton Independent, a local newspaper in Hopkinton, MA. Read more about it here and see the article below.

 

 

Healthy Options for Hopkinton Students

by Abigail Richardson

 

Since 2010 Michelle Obama has campaigned to improve the state of school lunches offered in public schools. The 2010 Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) set new nutrition standards for school meals to help ensure ‘every American child had access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults’. One of the goals was to reduce health risks for America’s children by helping schools across the country produce balanced meals so children had access to healthy foods during the school day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) based the new school meal standards on independent, expert recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.

In Britain school cafeterias went under the scrutiny of celebratory chef Jamie Oliver’s ‘Feed Me Better’ campaign in the early 2000s. Oliver successfully championed a campaign to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners at typical British elementary schools. In 2009, a report was released that after the implementation of Jamie’s School Dinners program test scores in English and science improved. The report was conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research located at Essex University. It measured the performance of 11-year-old students from Greenwich, south London from 2006 - 2007, allowing a full year of performance to be measured. The results showed that science students increased their scores by 8 percent, while English scores rose by 6 percent and maths also showed a slight increase in performance. The reason for the success - the campaign was heavily subsidized by the British government.

 

So how do Hopkinton students fare? Whitsons, the district’s dining services provider, is a company dedicated to ‘Nourishing Growing Minds’: “We are committed to providing wholesome, high quality menus, prepared fresh daily from locally sourced ingredients whenever available and in season. We off er a variety of meal choices and Smart Snack options that meet NSLP (National School Lunch Program), HHFKA (Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act) and state nutrition guidelines and are analysed and approved by a Registered Dietitian….Our number one priority is the safety and well-being of the students we serve.”

 

Whitsons not only adheres to the HHFKA mandates but confirm that most of the components of the act had already been incorporated within their menus for some time, such as whole grain offerings, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, a focus on lean protein choices, ‘Smart Snack’ options, fat-free and low-fat milk as well as a reduced sodium content.

 

At the High and Middle schools, they offer a daily salad bar with choices of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, corn, garbanzo beans, black beans and assorted condiments. At the elementary schools, fresh fruits and vegetables are on offer daily as well as an entrée salad choice. The à la carte offerings are John Stalker Institute approved meaning that, for example, the cookies are made with whole grains, the Doritos have fewer calories and less fat than the store-bought kind.

 

Whitsons also participates in a number of initiatives to promote healthy eating habits amongst the students. ‘Guest Chef Day’ at Hopkins recently saw Chef Hurley and the team prepare and serve samples of roasted carrots with a yogurt drizzle, and the High School students and staff enjoyed a Sushi day. Later on in the year, the elementary schools will experience the ‘Nutrition Safari’, where Welch and team dress up as safari characters to help educate children about making healthy choices. But some local parents feel there is more to be done. Early in 2016 Rebecca Paquette and Lisa Oliver formed a private Facebook group, ‘Organic/Non-GMO Lunches @ Hopkinton Schools!’, with the ambition of making ‘meaningful, healthy changes to the food service at Hopkinton Schools’.

 

Joseph Armenti, Whitsons’ District Manager responded, “We are dedicated to sourcing more organic and non-GMO ingredients so that our food is the cleanest and healthiest for our clients. But not only do meals have to be well balanced, they also have to be economically viable and feasible within the budget provided by the district.” Ralph Dumas, Director of Finance & Operations at Hopkinton Public Schools revealed that the key difficulty in fulfilling the goal of providing more organic and non-GMO foods is keeping their expenditure within appropriate costs to ensure that all children have access to lunch. Also, currently, only around 40 percent of the student body partake in school lunches which further impacts the budget and thus the flexibility of the menu.

 

Reportedly many high school students prefer to bring in their own lunches due to the time constraints of the lunch block and the junior and senior privileges see many teenagers opting to buy lunch off campus.  Dumas also explained that some of the ‘approved’ Smart Snacks, for example, are not popular with the students and so less likely to be purchased, also impacting the program’s overall revenue: “Kids vote with their pocket books,” Dumas said.  Paquette and Oliver, however, are optimistic about the future of the campaign for ‘Organic/Non-GMO Lunches @Hopkinton Schools!’. They are encouraged by Whitsons positive responses thus far and are determined to continue the discussion in order to find ways to expand healthy meals options in 2017.