Instill good eating habits in your children by following this insight from the LCPS Nutrition Services Department.
Written by Mike Cook
Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) Nutrition Services Department Executive Director Nancy Cathey has the same goal for her four-year-old grandson, Donovan, that she does for the thousands of students served by her department. She wants to provide all of them with healthy meals and help them learn about nutrition and food preparation.
With Donovan on a stool at the stove, Nancy helps him learn about important safety rules and how to make everything from gingerbread men to pizza and pancakes. He also helps wash vegetables and grate cheese, and is already learning about food allergies, like his father’s intolerance for gluten. “He and I cook something together every time I come to the house,” Nancy says.
It’s a little bigger task dealing with LCPS, which has about 25,000 students in more than 40 schools. With the support of Nutrition Services Department (NSD) Health and Nutrition Specialist Barbara Berger, Nancy and her staff look for appetizing ways to follow strict U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines.
For example, NSD is now in the middle of the second of three targets set for USDA to significantly reduce the amount of sodium in the foods served in school cafeterias. “Most families use a lot of salt,” Nancy says, “so students’ taste buds never adjust to the change between home and school. That’s why it’s such a struggle. We work really hard to flavor with other spices.”
Cafeteria workers have been dealing with federal limits on calories and fat in the meals they serve for many years. Today’s typical school breakfast consists of milk, a cup of fruit, and a grain product. LCPS also includes a protein, Nancy says. For lunch, they must serve milk, protein, whole grain, one-half to one cup of fruit, and one-half cup of vegetables.
There is now a salad bar in every LCPS school. That helps NSD serve the full rainbow of vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers. Barbara notes, “It’s hard to pack a lunch for a kid and have it be as healthy as a school meal.”
Ready to bring home the healthy concepts your kids are learning in school? Read on for ideas and tips for making
Apple Ambrosia Salad
2 apples, cored and diced
¼ cup crushed pineapple in
juice, with juice
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 squirt of whipped cream
(about 2 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. toasted almonds,
Mix all ingredients together. Cover and chill until ready to use. Serve in glass bowl and top with more crushed pineapple and toasted almonds.
1 cup watermelon chunks
1 cup pineapple chunks
1 cup stemmed strawberries
1 cup cantaloupe chunks
4 8-inch bamboo skewers
Place fruit chunks on bamboo skewers. Store in refrigerator in covered container.
Be creative with the fruits you use and get colorful. Grapes, orange slices, honeydew, or peaches would all work well in this recipe too.
Vanilla Fruit Parfait
2 cups cubed peaches
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
1 firm, medium banana, peeled and
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
In glasses, layer peaches, strawberries, yogurt, banana, and raisins. Sprinkle with almonds. Feel free to introduce different types of fruit. Play around with a variety of flavor combinations!
This photograph was styled and shot by Hailey Himelright, a 7th grader at Zia Middle School. She added her own touches of sliced bananas and locally sourced pecans.
SNAP To It!
It’s not just about making and serving healthy meals, it’s also about providing nutrition education to students and parents. A federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grant is helping LCPS provide education to low-income parents about nutrition and obesity prevention, says LCPS SNAP-Ed Program Manager Claire LeGault.
Through SNAP-Ed, LCPS has created a new website and even has a phone app to help parents and students learn about nutrition, food allergies, special dietary information, and the amount of sodium, fats, carbs and calories in the food it serves.
Visit lcps.nutrislice.com for each school’s menu, and to allow students to rate the meals they are served.
3 Healthy Snack Combos
A New Way To Party
Schools are being urged to hold activity parties (also sponsored by SNAP-ED) instead of food parties to celebrate birthdays and student achievement. “We really want the kids to know you can celebrate without eating high-fat, high-calorie food,” Nancy explains.
Want to try it at home?
- Keep your guests active and engaged with jump ropes, hula hoops, balls, croquet sets, an obstacle course, or ground-level balance beams.
- Opt for fun, but healthy snacks and refreshments like infused water, sparkling juice, fruit on a stick, and smoothies.
- If you are preparing food for a large group of children, consider food art. Buy lots of fruits and veggies in all different colors and let your guests make faces. For example, strawberries, green grapes and a banana slice can be used to make the Grinch. “The kids will have a really good time, and they’re going to eat what they make,” Barbara says.
- Get inspired with books and online browsing. As Barabara points out, “The food art concept is all over the internet.”
By the Numbers
The LCPS Nutrition Services Department serves:
25,000 students at
40+ schools with
250 employees on a budget of $10 million annually.
1.5 million breakfasts and
2.5 million lunches to students every year!