I am writing in response to Mr. Alan Hirsch's letter entitled, "Issues With School District," published on Dec. 13. As a proud member of the Nutrition Committee, I have a question for Mr. Hirsch: In the past 12 months when the Nutrition Committee, along with the support of Dr. Gordon and the members of the board of education, were bringing the Port Washington School District's lunch program into the 21st century with school food reform, where were you? Had Mr. Hirsch been present at the board of education meetings, he would know the reasons behind the changes we have made to the school lunch program. Since it seems from his comments that he was not in attendance, I hope I can enlighten him.
Our goal as a committee is to create a school lunch program where the children can receive highly nutritious meals where the food is appealing, palatable and minimally processed. To that end, we have made amazing strides that include, but are not limited to the following:
• Increased whole grain products. In our lunchrooms, our children will now be offered whole wheat bread and tortillas, brown rice and Barilla Plus pasta, which includes a high fiber content (proven to reduce cholesterol and spikes in blood sugar levels, as well as increase satiety) and omega fatty acids (proven to reduce heart disease). Our children also have the opportunity to purchase pizza. I am not sure why Mr. Hirsch thought pizza should be banned, but in the opinion of the Nutrition Committee (made up of dietitians and culinary experts, among others), pizza is a nutritionally sound meal made up of a whole grain crust, a tomato sauce, and cheese, and is offered in moderation.
• Increased fresh fruits and vegetables. Daily, our children are offered both a fresh fruit and a fresh vegetable, in addition to the entrée and drink options (I will address those in a moment). As a committee, we demanded that fresh items (as opposed to frozen or canned) be served to our children - and we have received them.
• Drink choices include only low-fat milks and 100 percent fruit juice. In the past, whole milk and juice drinks were available at the elementary schools, and soda could be found at the middle and high schools. The nutrition committee worked tirelessly to offer the children only drinks that would provide them with the vitamins and minerals they need to grow and to learn. Studies have shown that drinking milk is a top option for strengthening bones. It has also been shown that it is better for children to drink flavored milk (i.e. chocolate milk) than to drink no milk at all. That is why the school lunch program offers low fat chocolate milk in addition to unflavored fat free and low fat milk.
• Decreased high fat/high sugar snacks. We have established guidelines for our a la carte snacks and vending items to ensure that the "extras" that are available to the students are healthier options than they have been in the past. Ice cream was not banned from the menu, as Mr. Hirsch stated, because an item cannot be banned if it was never offered. We have included new items such as baked chips and pretzels. Children are also encouraged to purchase extra fruit a la carte. It is important to note that snacks are not part of the main lunch offerings. They are available at an additional cost and cannot be purchased using a lunch card. Parents must provide the children with money for those items, giving the parents the control over whether or not their children can purchase snacks at school. The chocolate chip cookie that Mr. Hirsch mentioned has its limits as well. Students at the elementary level are only allowed to purchase one cookie a day and this cookie has gone on a diet - shrinking to almost half its size from 12 months ago.
• Organic yogurt is now being served. This yogurt is served in the form of a parfait with granola and fresh fruit. This serves as a nutritionally sound meal as it includes three of the food groups from the My Food Pyramid.
That brings me to the "banned" cream cheese that Mr. Hirsch mentioned. Cream cheese was not banned. The lunch item formally known as a "bagel and cream cheese" has been updated so that it now meets with the government standards of a whole meal. The bagel lunch now includes the following: A whole wheat bagel, a pat of unprocessed, trans-fat free butter, carrot sticks, a fresh fruit, and the option of low fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice. This version provides more nutrients than before, making it a healthier option for our children.
There are plenty of other positive changes we have made to the school lunch program - some are in place and are succeeding and some are still to come (look out for our new salad bars in January being offered at the elementary schools on a weekly basis and daily at the middle and high schools). The Nutrition Committee is passionate about school food reform and the benefits our children will reap from it. We stand by the work we have done and should Mr. Hirsch have further questions about our changes, there is no further need for him to bother Dr. Gordon - he can give me a call.
On behalf of the Nutrition Committee