Westport Explores Food Allergies and Ways to Add Flavor and Flair to School Meals

Written by Guest Blogger Katelyn Castro, Dietetic Intern at Tufts Medical Center

In the United States, eight foods or food groups account for 90% of all serious allergic reactions: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanut, and tree nuts. Identifying foods containing these major allergens, developing appropriate substitutions, and avoiding cross-contact during food preparation in schools can be life-saving for children with severe food allergies. School nutrition employees play an essential role in providing a safe and inclusive cafeteria environment for children with food allergies.

On March 17, 2017 JSI hosted a Workshop to Go: Food Allergies for Westport Community Schools, which gave school staff members an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how to manage food allergies in their school systems. Registered Dietitian, Christanne Harrison, provided training on food allergies versus food intolerances, the top 8 allergens, common food allergy symptoms, and suggestions for allergen-free menu substitutions. With activities on label reading, staff members learned to recognize hidden food allergens. With practice scenarios and groups discussions, staff also identified strategies to ensure a allergy safe school environment and a concrete emergency response plan. All content of the workshop was based upon the newly updated Managing Life-Threatening Allergies in Schools guidance.

In addition to the 2-hour food allergy workshop, the Westport school nutrition staff also participated in JSI’s Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals Workshop presented by Janyl Finnerty, a chef and registered dietitian. Throughout the workshop, Westport school nutrition staff explored K-12 food trends, taste and flavor preferences, food presentation techniques, and simple ways to enhance the flavor and appeal of school meals. Did you know taste testing was found to be the number one trend to promote healthier choices in schools, based on a 2015 survey by the School Nutrition Association? Taste testing is one of many strategies discussed in this workshop that school nutrition staff can utilize to increase interest in healthy school foods.

With multiple activities incorporated into the Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals Workshop, staff members learned how to enhance the flavor of vegetables by creating and tasting four spice blends. Recipe demonstrations of a Broccoli Salad and Tunisian Chickpea Salad also introduced ways to make quick and easy recipes that are also flavorful, healthy, and appealing to children.

Delicious Broccoli Salad

Workshop resources for Food Allergies and for Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals can be found in the JSI Resource Center. Visit the JSI webpage to learn more about the professional development opportunities to help you improve your school’s nutrition with engaging, interactive and practical workshops tailored to your school’s needs.

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