School kids get healthier, tastier options at 2nd annual USDA Foods Conference

Food service companies that provide lunches for school children across the state showed off some new healthy options at the second annual USDA Foods Conference Thursday. (1/9/14)

EAST BRUNSWICK - Food service companies that provide lunches for school children across the state showed off some new healthy options at the second annual USDA Foods Conference Thursday.

School cafeteria menus look a lot different today than when students' parents were buying lunch.

The providers are sharing some of the food that schools will be picking from when they start the 2014 school year. Among the options were beef chalupas, pierogies and sweet potato fries.

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One vendor getting some attention was Deborah Howard, with Asion Food Solutions, who displayed a curry stew with garbonzo beans and fresh spinach, Thai sweet chili chicken, Japanese cherry blossom chicken, and General Tso's chicken.

Rose Tricario, with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, says all the choices are in line with USDA guidelines. "So it's low sodium, low sugar, low fat," she says. "It's all been baked in the oven. The batter on the chickens is healthier."

School lunch staples like pizza and tater tots are being made with whole grains. They have to be healthier in order to be in line with the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 to fight obesity and end hunger.

"We increased fruits and vegetables in diets," says Tricario. "We increased the amount of whole grain. We reduced fat sodium."

But students won't eat it if they don't like it. Sal Valenza, with the West New York School District, says he takes it back for a taste test. "All these companies will give us samples," he says. "So we'll bring it back, set kids up, and say, ‘what do you like?’"

School officials say the kids are taking to the healthier foods. Experts believe the younger they start kids on fruits and vegetables in school the more accepting they are of those healthier foods as they get older.
 

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