The A-List: A Resource for School Snacks and Beverages

One of JSI’s most popular online resources for school nutrition is The A-List. This is a comprehensive and ever-expanding list of snacks and beverages that meet the Massachusetts Nutrition Standards of Competitive Food and Beverages in Public Schools and the USDA’s Smart Snacks nutritional standards, whichever is stricter. The A-List includes an online view as well as a downloadable PDF with 80 pages of “acceptable snacks” with accompanying nutritional information as reference. By using this resource, you can ensure your school selects and offers snack products that comply with federal and state guidelines, encouraging healthy eating behaviors and strong growth and development for students.

The A-List is updated weekly and products added within the last 30 days are highlighted in yellow to allow for easy identification of new options. Additionally, an annual re-evaluation takes place at the beginning of every year where every item on The A-List is re-submitted and re-evaluated – this optimizes the integrity of this valuable resource given the ever-changing number of products available for schools.

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All products added within the last 30 days to The A-List are highlighted in yellow.

All A-List products meet the criteria for all levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold Award of Distinction) of the HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms.

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The A-List also has a downloadable PDF with 80 pages of “acceptable snacks” with accompanying nutritional information as reference.

If a certain item is not listed on The A-List, you can recommend that the manufacturer or distributor enter it into MassNets, the Massachusetts Nutrition Evaluation Tool for Schools to determine if it meets the standards. If the item passes, they can submit their product information for final approval for the A-List.

To view the most up-to-date version of The A-List and to find the downloadable PDF version, please visit the JSI website. We hope you find The A-List to be a valuable resource for your school and as you look to provide nutritious snacks and beverages to students.



Using Taste Tests to Promote Your School Nutrition Program

Click image to download USDA poster/sticker JPG

Click image to download USDA poster/sticker JPG

Often times simply changing menu options is not enough to increase participation. Promoting new options is a key step in getting students to choose them. Taste tests for students are a fun and interactive way to gauge how receptive students are to a new recipe before offering it on the menu plus it allows you to get useful feedback that can be used to implement changes in the future. Taste testing exposes children to new and different foods. Did you know that a child might have to try a food up to ten or more times before accepting it?

The Ohio Smarter Lunchrooms Movement Taste Testing Getting Started Guide offers tips to increase student participation in taste tests so that you can get the most accurate assessment of student preferences possible.

  • Promote the event with signage to get students excited for taste testing day! Be sure to include appealing features of the item and creative adjectives to describe it.
  • Set up the taste testing station in a place that will prompt students as they pass –don’t forget to use verbal prompts to encourage students to taste.
  • Ensure that the sample item is visually appealing to students. Fresh, colorful, bite size portions are best.
  • Document feedback from surveys, comment cards, student votes, or verbal responses. Click here to download a free taste testing form from USDA.

    Mount Clemens, Michigan Broccoli Carrot Salad samples

 

VT Feed’s Guide to Taste Testing Local Food in Schools suggests developing a food committee of parents and teachers who support the program while ­­­­­other schools have started student clubs that help generate new food ideas that can be used for preliminary testing or to help prepare the food for taste testing day.

Additional taste test resources such as fliers, comment cards, stickers, and posters are available on the Ohio Smarter Lunchroom page. For additional resources on taste testing, visit JSI’s Resource Center.

Left image credit: this image was found on the School Meals that Rock Pinterest page.

Farm to School –Supporting Local Agriculture

apples2Offering locally grown foods in your school nutrition program can help encourage students to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, increase meal participation, decrease waste while supporting the local agricultural economy and reduce the carbon footprint of the community!

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) serves as a national networking program focused on facilitating relationships between local farms and communities seeking locally sourced food. Additionally, NFSN helps bring food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools. Since its inception in the late 1990s, participation has grown tremendously. The USDA Farm to School Census indicates that schools across the country invested more than half a billion dollars in local foods in the 2013-2014 school year with more than 42,000 schools involved in farm to school activities.

2016 USDA Farm to School Grants were awarded to four organizations in Massachusetts for training, implementation, and support service including Massachusetts Farm to School Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger in Amherst, Quincy Public Schools, Somerville Public Schools, and The Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester. Congratulations to all recipients!

The Massachusetts Farm to School Project is the local branch of the NFSN that provides individual assistance to school cafeterias and other institutional food service operations across the state. The MA Farm to School Project also works to promote local food and agriculture education for students and through their Harvest of the Month campaign they are inspiring healthy food choices by encouraging schools to increase student exposure to Massachusetts’ seasonal foods.

“The Massachusetts Farm to School Project seeks to increase access to healthy, locally grown food in schools and other institutions for the good of our children, our farms and our communities.”

MA Farm to School will join a panel in one of the sessions at the upcoming Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit scheduled for May 24th and 25th, 2016! Be sure to visit JSI’s Resource Center for more Farm to School resources.

Make Your Lunchroom Smarter with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement!

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement is a research-baseoranges-150x150d initiative focused on creating sustainable lunchrooms that help guide students to make smarter choices. The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement was established at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program and is funded by the USDA ERS/FNS. JSI has collaborated with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement since 2012. In association with a Team Nutrition Grant, JSI has partnered with Smarter Lunchrooms to bring relevant professional development resources and technical assistance to fifty schools in Massachusetts since 2014, and the initiative will continue through June of 2016!

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health offered a Wellness Initiative for Student Success training opportunity. For this initiative School Wellness Teams utilized the School Health Index, the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard, and the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP). Once the program is completed this year, the participating schools in MA will have the tools to apply for the HealthierUS School Challenge and Let’s Move Active Schools recognition, and are encouraged to sign up to become a USDA Team Nutrition School!

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement provides an effective set of best practices meant to create an environment that encourages students to make healthful choices. The best practices listed below are easy, and inexpensive or free proven methods of increasing the number of students who make healthy choices in five key areas.

  1. Increase the number of students that select fruit –use signage and verbal prompts to attract attention to fruit and encourage students to take some.
  2. Increase the number of students that select targeted entrée –display creative age-targeted food item names on a poster or menu board outside the cafeteria.
  3. Increase the number of students that select vegetables –create a SNAC (Student Nutrition Action Committee) of students responsible for the naming of and creating signage for veggies.
  4. Increase the number of students that select reimbursable meals –create a health-items-only convenience line stocked with fruits, vegetables, premade sandwiches and salads and lowest-fat/lowest-sodium entrée items.
  5. Increase the number of students that select white milk –white milk should account for at least 1/3 of beverage options displayed in each cooler.

Additionally, you can find many useful links to Smarter Lunchrooms resources in JSI’s Smarter Lunchrooms category in the Resource Center.

Bring More Pulses to Your School Nutrition Program in 2016

2016 is the International Year of Pulses! Pulses are a group of 12 different grainblack bean legume crops including dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas and lentils, they are nutrient dense and consumed by people all over the world. Pulses are highly regarded as very sustainable crops as they require just 43 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of pulses compared with soybeans, which require 216 gallons of water! The four themes of the International Year of Pulses 2016 are food security, nutrition and innovation; market access and stability; creating awareness; and productivity and environmental sustainability.

Pulse crops are a sound source of nutrition while being very inexpensive which puts them among the top most sustainable crops in the world. They are a low-fat excellent source of protein and also contribute vitamins and minerals to the diet such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc. Pulses are also high in fiber containing both soluble and insoluble fiber known to help control blood sugar levels and aid in digestive regularity. Furthermore, pulses have been found to fix the nitrogen in soil thus contributing to greater soil quality.

Assorted PulsesSchool nutrition programs can help set a trend for students by encouraging pulse consumption with creative kid-friendly recipes like bean and corn salsa and black bean burgers. Pulses can even be included in your school nutrition program’s entrée options every week for Meatless Mondays! Classroom lessons are also available to help teach students about this super food. Click here for a list of 10 great things you can do to help promote the 2016 International Year of Pulses.

JSI’s Back to Basics: Meat Alternates Workshop to Go can help your school nutrition program staff learn how to serve more beans, legumes, and other meat alternates that look good and taste great! This workshop is a hands-on culinary class that will demonstrate easy cooking techniques for meat alternates that you will be proud to serve. Additionally, a new JSI workshop Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals will be presented at the SNA of Mass upcoming chapter meetings. This workshop explores K-12 culinary trends, food presentation techniques and flavor profiles with student appeal to enhance school meals and encourage increased participation. Contact your chapter delegate for locations and dates. For inspiration visit the BEANS, PEAS and LENTILS That Rock board on the School Meals That Rock Pinterest page!

Image credit: the images in this post were downloaded from the International Year of Pulses 2016 Photo Gallery at http://iyp2016.org/resources/photo-gallery.

Teaching Sustainable Practices with School Gardens

school gardenSchool gardening is quickly becoming popular in schools across the nation as a sustainable practice that also serves as a powerful education tool for students of all ages. Engaging garden lessons provide hands-on learning for any academic subject.

Lessons can include healthy lifestyle and nutrition concepts, connection with nature and the community, sustainability, school pride, historical practices, and the importance of sustained care from seed to harvest.

Many schools in Massachusetts have already started school gardens. To name a few, Amherst, Andover, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Dorchester, Easthampton, Holyoke, Framingham, Natick, New Bedford, Northampton, Springfield, Taunton, Watertown and Williamsburg all feature gardens in some or all of their schools. Similarly, Foxborough Public Schools has indoor hydroponic garden towers that produce nutritious food for the cafeteria year round.

There are grant opportunities to help fund your agricultural education project! Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom partnered with Massachusetts State Grange, Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources, the Massachusetts Dairy Promotions Board and more, awards mini-grants to educators ranging from $300-$500. Grant winners are allowed to receive the grant up to 3 times for a maximum of $1,500. Additionally, City Sprouts of Cambridge, MA partners with public schools to aid in school garden implementation and provides resources for teachers.

Are you interested in school gardening? FSU is offering a 4-week online School Gardening 101 course that starts January 11 and goes until February 5. Click here to view the syllabus and registration information. You can also find many useful resources in the Go Green for Schools page in the JSI Resource Center.

JSI Helps Schools Fill It Up the Right Way!

 
Portion control is fundamental for school nutrition programs to stay within their fill it up the right waybudgets. Proper portion sizes strengthen concepts of balance and moderation in student diets and can reduce child obesity and waste. The USDA Professional Standards include portion control as part of the key topic Serving Food in the learning objectives. The learning objective states, [Employees will be able to] “identify/serve portions of food items according to USDA school meal pattern requirements and diet restrictions.”

The John Stalker Institute (JSI) offers Fill It Up the Right Way Workshop to Go bringing training right to your school. This workshop teaches portion control strategies that can be applied in your school nutrition program; activities include practice weighing, measuring and the proper use of kitchen equipment. Online resources for this workshop can be found in the JSI Resource Center. The Fill It Up the Right Way workshop meets the requirements for the USDA Operations learning codes ensuring that learning outcomes are aligned with USDA expectations. Click here to read about Fill It Up the Right Way workshop in Westport, MA last year.

Another valuable resource is JSI’s A-List, a list of single serve products that are pre-portioned and meet the school nutrition program snack requirements ensuring appropriate portion sizes. The A-List is an up-to-date and ever-expanding list of vending and snack products that meet the Massachusetts Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages in Public Schools and the USDA’s Smart Snacks nutrition standards, whichever is stricter.

To analyze recipes for non-packaged foods check out JSI’s Recipe Tool. The Recipe Tool can be used to confirm that your school’s recipes meet the federal and state nutritional standards in the proper serving sizes. The Recipe Tool even generates downloadable nutrition facts labels and allows you to share your approved recipes.

JSI can help your school Fill It Up the Right Way, be sure to check out JSI’s resources and professional development pages for more information.

Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

On Saturday, March 7th, school professionals gathered at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer for the Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Annual Winter Conference for Educators, Growing Minds through Massachusetts Agriculture. This conference was aimed toward teachers and other educators and provided countless activity ideas, resources, and connections to bring agriculture to the classroom.

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Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating & Physical Activity

JSI instructor Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD presented a session on Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. She covered different ways to promote healthy eating and movement for all ages through education, incentives, and fun activities in the classroom, schoolyard, and school garden.

Wellness policies were identified as the first place to look to help promote healthy lifestyles in the classroom. Each school district’s wellness policy, driven by the community’s stakeholders, has different components to be upheld and implemented. Meg encouraged educators to look here first, and then create a focus for a program or initiative.

Meg strongly encouraged everyone to continue educating about healthy choices, as this is proven to impact children’s eating habits. Nutrition education can be incorporated into all different aspects of the curriculum.

Some helpful resources and ideas Meg shared included:

  • Host a BOKS before-school program, which are FREE programs before school that get the students moving for a brain and body boost before a day full of learning.
  • Hang posters and other visuals around the classroom and school promoting healthy food and exercise habits – a passive but effective way to reinforce a healthy lifestyle.
  • Take “Brain Breaks” to give kids a brief moment of movement to refocus their energy, such as this fun YouTube dance!
  • Flaunt your own healthy snacks, challenge students to bring healthy foods, and try new fruits and vegetables in the classroom with them.
  • Host a health fair run by the students, which actively engages them in nutrition education and has the potential to be a fundraising opportunity.
  • Hold food tastings, or Chefs Move to Schools events (which are FREE!) to spark students’ interest in healthy food.
  • Go on farm tours and field trips, and take advantage of Farm to School opportunities.
  • Start a school garden at your school, whether it be small potted plants in the classroom or a plot of soil in the schoolyard.

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    Meg Whitbeck presenting to a group of enthusiastic school professionals.

Holly Alperin, EdM, MCHES, Nutrition Education and Training Coordinator of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) attended the session and spoke about an opportunity in Massachusetts with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. The DESE and JSI were awarded a Team Nutrition grant to be implemented over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 school years; 50 schools in Massachusetts will be provided with training and technical assistance to implement Smarter Lunchrooms strategies in their cafeterias as part of the Wellness Initiative for Student Success. The Wellness Initiative for Student Success is a hands-on, multi-session experience that guides school wellness teams to advance efforts for a healthier nutrition and physical activity environment for students and staff. Find out more information about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement in the JSI Resource Center.

Be sure to explore all that JSI offers, including the following professional development programs and resources:

Get Ready for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit

Yogurt and berriesIf you are looking for new ideas for recipes for your school meal program, consider incorporating Greek yogurt.  There are many delicious ways to incorporate yogurt into school meals. Greek yogurt can be used in dips, dressings, and soups, and as a substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise. This can help to lower the fat and calories in recipes, while increasing the protein and dairy content to help meet the school meal requirements. Consider using the JSI Recipe Tool for a quick and easy analysis of your recipe – the JSI Recipe Tool will show if the recipe is compliant with the state and federal snack standards, as well as provide meal component information.

Chef Tim Reardon

Chef Tim Reardon from Chobani® will demo Greek yogurt recipes for schools at the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit on May 21

Ideas for how to incorporate Greek yogurt into school meals can be found in these recipes from Chobani® Greek yogurt. Click on the following links to access the nutritional information of some of these recipes, which were analyzed with the JSI Recipe ToolChobani® parfait, strawberry banana smoothie, and hummus. Chef Tim Reardon from Chobani® will be one of the keynote speakers at the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs 2-day Summit on May 20 & 21, 2015.

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit will be held at Four Points by Sheraton Norwood. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition, this conference is aimed towards school nutrition directors, managers, and business managers, and promotes healthy students and healthy school nutrition programs. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit brochure will be mailed in the beginning of March. Stay tuned to The John Stalker Institute for more updates about the conference!