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On-site feeders battle childhood obesity

As youngsters head back to school, on-site foodservice providers say they are more prepared than ever before to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity through improved education and more healthful foods served at K-12 accounts.

Officials from Aramark Corp., Compass Group North America and Sodexo USA said they are participating in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign by introducing comprehensive wellness and nutritional programs during the 2010-2011 school year.

Philadelphia-based Aramark last month unveiled its new Healthy For Life program, which provides more nutrition information to be shared with children and their parents, and healthful menu items prepared with reduced amounts of sugar, sodium and fat.

Cathy Schlosberg, vice president of marketing and strategic development for Aramark Education, said more locally sourced items also would be utilized in the food’s preparation.

“Our focus is on health and wellness and trying to combat childhood obesity,” she said. “Obesity and poor health are rampant in our country, and our children are particularly at risk. This program creates healthier school environments through nutritious menus, wellness education, parental resource materials health fairs and school events.”

Schlosberg said the Healthy For Life program would feature more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low and nonfat dairy options.

To implement the program, Aramark is rolling out two new food-court-style concepts — Tortilla and the Green Street Deli — that will offer menu items made with fresh ingredients and featuring bold flavors.
Tortilla will offer such Mexican fare as tacos, burritos and fajitas made with fresh-baked chicken and homemade salsas.

The Green Deli will offer sandwiches built on fresh-baked, whole-wheat sub rolls, paninis or tortilla wraps. In addition, breaded chicken sandwiches and French fries will be baked and not fried; some wrap sandwiches will be prepared with yogurt instead of mayonnaise; and salad bars will feature daily salad fixings served with low-fat dressings.

Veggie burgers and trans-fat-free pizzas made with whole-grain crusts and low fat cheese also will be available.

“We are very excited about our new Healthy For Life program,” Schlosberg said. “The nutritious menus are important, but it goes well beyond that. It’s really about engaging the entire school community — parents, administrators, educators and students — to help develop good health habits.”

Healthy For Life has been deployed so far at 600 of the 3,000 schools Aramark services.

For the Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo, health and well-being is showcased in a program comprising five components: nutrition, achievement, environment, community and activity. Steve Dunsmore, president of the company’s school services division, said the program focuses on providing materials, expertise and instruction related to nutrition education, encouraging physical education and menu planning.

He said the on-site provider would increase breakfast participation with in-class cart deliveries and kiosk/grab-and-go stations in key areas of the 470 school districts it serves. The company also is adding more local and fresh foods o its menus.

“Sodexo is really excited for the start of a new school year,” Dunsmore said “We are beginning the year with a renewed focus on providing services that nurture student health, wellness and achievement, and we look forward to partnering with the school districts to improve the overall well-being of the students we serve.”

At Chartwells, a division of Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group, emphasis has been placed on offering students more whole grains and fruits and vegetable options, according to Margie Saidel, the company’s vice president of nutrition and sustainability.

To accomplish this, the Rye, N.Y.-based Chartwells launched its Be a Flexitarian program earlier this year. Originally rolled out in celebration of Earth Day, the program offers kids the opportunity to incorporate more meatless meals into their lunchtime selections. Dishes include black bean and brown rice veggie wraps, vegetarian chili with whole-wheat macaroni, and stir-fried vegetables with red beans and brown rice.

“Eating ‘flexitarian’ can have a positive impact on your health,” Saidel said. “Vegetable sources of protein, especially legumes and grains, are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and are good sources of more healthful unsaturated fats. They also have no cholesterol, are generally low in saturated fat and often are lower in calories than animal proteins.”

In addition, Chartwells is focusing on lower-sodium offerings and is encouraging students to choose foods seasoned with healthy herbs and spices.

“New research shows that a spicier life may be a healthier one,” said Karen J. Dittrich, Chartwells’ director of marketing and communications. “Seasoning foods with herbs and spices is a great way to add flavor to foods without adding salt, sugar and extra fats.”

Featured items include Neapolitan pizza topped with fresh tomatoes and herbs, tomato Florentine with whole-wheat pasta, and a curried turkey wrap served with spicy, herbed vegetables.

Dittrich said using whole grains remains an important initiative at Chartwells, and menu items like whole-wheat pizza and pastas have been added to the lineup.

The company, which operates in approximately 550 school districts nationwide, also has instituted Food Focuses, a proprietary program that each month highlights a new food item through menu offerings, samplings, informational signage, displays or chef demonstrations.

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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