Wellness Policy covers classroom treats, allergies

Wellness Policy covers classroom treats, allergies

By DENISE PERREAULT

Valley Breeze & Observer Correspondent

SMITHFIELD - Parents sending edible treats to a child's classroom, perhaps to celebrate a special event like the child's birthday, should contact the classroom teacher well beforehand to make sure the food they offer is healthy and won't have adverse effects on other youngsters with allergies.

That advice is just one part of the Smithfield School Department's new Wellness Policy, an 11-page document prepared by an 18-member Wellness Committee to ensure that food consumed on school premises is nutritious and meets the latest state and federal nutrition guidelines.

Food covered by the policy, which won first approval from the School Committee at its Sept. 16 meeting, includes almost everything that passes through school doors, from the breakfast and lunches prepared by the district's food service provider, Aramark, to snacks sold in the school cafeteria and even the treats sold in school fundraisers when held during the school day. Homemade lunches children take to school are not covered by the policy nor are fundraising drives held after the instructional day.

"We have a responsibility as educators to teach the whole child, and part of that mission is how to be healthy and how to eat right," said School Committeeman Sean Clough, co-chair with Deputy Supt. Bridget Morisseau of the Wellness Committee. "We all can see the connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind ready to learn. The healthier the child, the more that child can learn."

The policy means you won't find items like candy, doughnuts, soda and other sugary treats sold inside town schools. But that does not mean youngsters are bereft of all tasty treats. Genevieve Ciullo, an Aramark employee who is food service director for town schools, mentioned two treats specially made for Smithfield school children: chocolate chip cookies and pop-tarts.

A Cumberland man makes the chocolate chip cookies, available only at the middle and high schools. Unlike the huge, "gooey," "extremely unhealthy" cookies Clough said he can remember from his high school days (he graduated from Smithfield High in 2005), these are high in fiber, low in fat, and are the only chocolate chip cookies that can be sold in town secondary schools. The same man soon will be making muffins for the school, Ciullo said.

Clough, Morisseau, Ciullo and others tried the cookies on a recent lunch day at the high school and proclaimed them quite tasty - as good as those old "gooey ones" he enjoyed in high school, Clough said. The high school goes through about 250 of these cookies each week, Ciullo said.

Parents sometimes see pop-tarts at the school and wonder if these meet nutritional guidelines. They do, Ciullo said, because they are specially made for Smithfield schools and this type cannot be purchased in stores. The school pop-tarts are made with whole-grain bread and dried strawberries, both intended to add fiber to the snack.

Snacks to be considered healthy must have, according to the policy: no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat; no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat; no more than 7 grams of sugar per ounce; no more than 240 mg of sodium per serving; no more than 240 calories per package.

Healthy beverages, the policy says, are: water; 100 percent fruit juice and fruit-based juice at 50 percent juice (both with no added sweeteners); and 1-percent fat milk, nonfat milk and dairy alternatives such as fortified soy beverages with sugar content of no more than 4 grams per ounce. "The riskiest we get is Gatorade," Ciullo quipped.

It was Morisseau who first raised the issue of parents sending food to a child's classroom to mark a special event, suggesting classroom teachers need to be notified well in advance. "Our parents are outstanding about sending in healthy items, especially at the elementary level," she said, mentioning fruit salad and veggie trays as two examples.

"Our biggest issue is when parents don't tell us when they'll be sending in an item (for an entire class)," she continued, and the reason for that is the significant number of students who are diabetic or allergic to such foods as strawberries, seafood, nuts and eggs.

"In every school, we have life-threatening food allergies," Morisseau said, estimating the number at about 10 students per each of the six district schools. Teachers working with the school nurse must check the allergy status of other students in the class when parents send in food. "A lot goes into clearing the food for classroom consumption," said Morisseau, former principal of Winsor elementary school.

Students seem to endorse the standards of the Wellness Policy. Francine Cassano, family education and consumer science teacher, said her students like the policy and use it to "tweak recipes" when they cook in class to ensure a "healthy menu." Lauren Paul, a senior carrying a salad for lunch she made at Aramark's deli station, said the Wellness Policy is the same as "how we eat at home." The policy works by "keeping you healthy and helping you maintain a good build, a good figure," she said. Cassano and Paul were interviewed on a recent day at lunch time at the high school cafeteria.

Local produce when available from local farms is a top priority for Aramark, Ciullo noted. She told the school board at its Sept. 16 meeting that she recently completed visits to farms that provide produce, including farms in Exeter, Johnston, Cranston and Greenville, to discuss school needs. One farm grows cherry tomatoes just for Smithfield schools, she said. A bagel and yogurt meal was added this year to elementary school menus, Ciullo said, aimed at youngsters who are vegetarians.

The policy has a list of specific snacks, with brand names, that the state Wellness Consortium has approved for sale in schools, which includes various kinds of popcorn, pretzels, crackers, cheese, soy chips rather than potato chips, crackers and apple sauce.

Because food is often a part of classroom celebrations, the new Wellness Policy includes a list of suggested rewards to replace food. "Celebrations are an important part of our culture," Morisseau said, "and we don't want to lose that excitement." Lauren Paul liked the idea of having no homework or having an extra free period as rewards. The policy's suggested list also includes playing a favorite game, teaching the class, eating lunch with the teacher or principal and listening to music.

The Wellness Policy is scheduled to come before the School Committee at its Oct. 7 meeting for second and final approval. Now that the policy is in place, the Wellness Committee, which is seeking new members, will continue to meet quarterly and now will concentrate on getting the word out about it. The policy is on the district website www.smithfield-ps.org .