PHILADELPHIA, PA (August 28, 2014) – Each year, students return to school and settle in to their daily schedules for classes, extracurricular activities and socializing with friends. But this fall, Aramark, a food and nutrition partner with over 500 school districts throughout the U.S., is hoping to shake up the usual K-12 dining routine with its Healthy Bites sampling program.
According to Student ViewPOINT™, Aramark’s proprietary consumer research program, 55% of students are interested in making healthy choices sometimes, while almost a third of students say they have tried fruits and vegetables at school that they haven’t had before.
“We are excited that students are paying attention to their health, and even more encouraged that they are already trying new foods when dining with us at school,” said Linda Sceurman, R.D.N.and Director of Nutrition and Menu Development for Aramark’s Education business. “We believe that the Healthy Bites program will help to increase the number of students expanding their food palates by educating and empowering them to make healthy choices each and every day.”
The Healthy Bites program, which reaches about 2 million students at over 2,000 elementary and secondary schools nationwide, encourages students to test unfamiliar foods via free samples of items that will then be available on the school menu.
At Houston Independent School District (HISD), the sixth largest school district in the country with 210,000 students, sampling programs have been successful in helping to engage students in wellness.
“Our chefs have been offering samples of different foods to students at all grade levels, from whole grain muffins and wraps to vegetarian chili and lasagna, to introduce them to healthier alternatives,” said Ray Danilowicz, Aramark’s general manager at HISD. “In addition to having fun, the students are surprised that these new foods actually taste great, and are asking their parents if they can serve them at home, too.”
Showcased foods are selected in conjunction with monthly wellness messages around topics such as MyPlate and food variety. Examples of menu items that may be sampled throughout the year include chicken, pasta and vegetables with rosa sauce, a roasted vegetable wrap, fish soft tacos and a Baja fajita chicken salad.
Over the past several years, well in advance of the changes in national nutrition guidelines, Aramark’s team of dietitians and chefs have been developing recipes that eliminate added trans-fat, reduce added fats, sugar and salt, and feature low and non-fat dairy options; lean protein choices; a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; assorted whole grain products; and 100 percent fruit juice with no sugar added.
In addition to menu changes, the company has worked closely with its manufacturers to reduce added sugar and sodium in the food items available to students. Many popular name brand snacks -- including pretzels, granola and cereal bars, cookies and graham crackers -- have been reformulated to feature more whole grains, less fat, salt and sugar and more fiber.
“Along with tasting great, these new items have been developed to be nutritionally superior to alternatives that are purchased at stores and packed from home,” Sceurman added.
Aramark is committed to improving childhood nutrition and creating healthier school environments through nutritious meal offerings and wellness education. The company’s nutrition and wellness education program, Healthy for Life™, features an online parental resource portal, a nutrition mascot, health fairs and school events. To learn more, please visit www.myhealthyforlife.com.
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