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  • The Sentinel: School lunches focus on healthy foods children will love

    SHIPPENSBURG — Teaching children to become healthy eaters isn’t an easy job, but a little planning and imagination can go a long way.

    Jared Ford, director of food services for the Shippensburg Area School District, said he plans menus a week at a time, carefully balancing the different components of a healthy meal and basing final food selections on federal regulations.

    “We’re not just looking at a day, but at a week,” he said. “We bring all the different components together in a week’s menu.

    “We mix the vegetables. We look at color. How many times a week do we have orange vegetables? How many times do we have green vegetables, or leafy green vegetables? How many times do we have beans and legumes?”

    Ford said he follows government regulations and guidelines, and works with a regional dietitian and chef to plan healthy school meals that kids will like.

    According to Ford, components of a healthy school lunch are based on My Plate — “the newest version of the food pyramid” — which calls for a quarter of the foods on a plate to be protein, a quarter grains, and half fruits and vegetables.

    He encourages parents to visit My Plate online, but he also offers several tips for packing healthy lunches and helping children make better food choices.

    “Look at the colors, and pick fruits and vegetables that are different colors – purple, green, white, orange,” he said. “Get the kid involved and find out what they’re willing to try. That is key.

    “Take them to the grocery store and let them help pick out what they want to eat,” he added. “We have found that when kids are involved, they tend to eat healthier. If your child doesn’t like carrots, maybe he’ll like sweet potatoes. If he doesn’t like spinach, maybe he’ll like romaine lettuce.”

    Parents should also keep fresh fruits and vegetables at home to encourage healthy eaters. Also, many families are buying local produce.

    Ford said a child who likes to pack his lunch may enjoy a peanut butter sandwich paired with fresh fruit, chickpeas and carrot or celery sticks.

    At school this year, a “fun lunch” has become a hit among elementary students. That menu includes yogurt, string cheese, whole grain graham crackers, fresh fruit and milk.

    “The kids love it,” he said.

    Whole grain chicken nuggets are also popular, he said.

    Ford said he is also pleased to see vendors offering healthier choices, like baked potato chips and whole grain options, at lower prices.

    He said he believes most people are trying to eat healthier today but are sometimes hindered by the cost of healthy foods.

    “I see a trend toward healthier options at lower prices, and that is important to the average family,” he said.

    From The Sentinel

    September 4, 2015