Meriden Public Schools


Questions and Answers about Nutrition, through the Meriden Public Schools' Go, Slow, Whoa! program.

What is the pilot all about and what are its goals?

The goal of this pilot is to help guide students in making the healthiest choices possible in the cafeteria. The GO, SLOW, WHOA system was created with ease of use and cost sustainability in mind. In addition to helping the students, the goal of this program is also to provide information regarding the nutritional content of school meals that will be helpful for the food service programs at all K-12 schools.

What is portion control and why is it important to think about?

Portion control refers to eating the appropriate amount of food: not too much and not too little. Your body needs larger portions of some foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein, while other types of foods, especially added sugars, are not really needed and should be limited to smaller amounts. One helpful tip for portion control is to have your plate be one half vegetables and fruit, one quarter protein, and one-quarter whole grains. Thinking about portion control means to be aware of how much you are eating so you don't eat too much of one food and not enough of another. Portion control will help you balance a healthy diet.

What makes school food different from food I may purchase at home or in a restaurant?

School food is purchased from large companies that use ingredients including whole grains, and also low fat, low sodium, and low sugar ingredients. This will make some of the school options healthier than comparable foods that are served in restaurants or made at home. For example, Meriden's school lunch pizza is made with whole wheat crust, low fat and reduced sodium cheese, so it will be a healthier pizza than some of the pizza slices that are available at some fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

What is the National School Lunch Program?

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established under the National School Lunch Act in 1946. It is a federally assisted meal program that operates in public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. This program provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each day at school.

What are the nutritional requirements for school lunch?

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed USDA to update the meal pattern and nutrition standards of the NSLP to agree with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new meal pattern has increased the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in school menus. Specific calorie limits have been set to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The sodium content of school meals has also reduced to improve the nutritional quality of school menus. School lunches must meet Federal meal requirements, but decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

Why are some items in the pilot program exempt from certain nutritional evaluation categories?

There were some overall exceptions to our evaluation rules and certain foods had to be analyzed differently. For example, there is some naturally occurring sugar that is found in items like fruit and skim milk, but points were not taken away from these products for the sugar content because it is not added sugar. These products also contain vitamins and minerals important for health, so skim milk and fruit consumption should be encouraged. Some of the healthy fats, like peanut butter and other nut butters as well as seeds were exempt from the fat evaluation category because they contain mostly healthy fats. The exemptions made for certain food products were also based of the guidelines set by the Connecticut Nutrition Standards.

What are naturally occurring sugars and what are some food examples that contain these?

There are two types of sugars in American diets, naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. Added sugars can include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods. Fruits have natural sugars in the form of fructose, while milk has natural sugars in the form of lactose. It is recommended to limit the amount of added sugars you consume on a daily basis to promote a healthy diet. Choose foods with naturally occurring sugars, like berries, apples, oranges, watermelon, low-fat yogurt or low-fat cheese to satisfy that sweet craving.

What's the difference between whole grains and refined grains?

Grains are an essential part of a healthy diet, but the healthiest kinds of grains are whole grains. The 2012 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all grains consumed should be whole grains. Whole grains are unrefined grains, meaning they haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole wheat in bread. Refined grains on the other hand have been milled, which is a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. Refined grains include white flour, white rice, and white bread. Many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains too.

What are the health benefits of eating whole grains?

Whole grains contain fiber and nutrients which are important for health. Fiber will keep you feeling satisfied after eating and will also help you maintain a regular bowel pattern. Fiber can also lower your cholesterol. Some types of fiber can help boost your immune system, too. A "whole grain" contains the germ (nutrient rich inner part), endosperm (soft starchy inside portion), bran (fibrous coating, and the husk (outer shell). Look for the word "whole" in the ingredients on the food label; some examples are "whole wheat flour" and "whole grain flour". Oats and brown rice are two other examples of whole grains.

Why is fiber important and how can you incorporate more fiber into your diet?

Fiber is a carbohydrate that comes from plant sources that your body can’t digest or absorb. It is also referred to as roughage or bulk. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Although fiber is not digestible, it is good for the body in many ways. Fiber helps us digest and pass the foods we eat, feeds the good probiotic bacteria, keeps your digestive lining healthy, and has been shown to absorb and pull out excess hormones, cholesterol, fat, and toxins from the body. By increasing our fiber intake, we also decrease the risks of common disease such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Why is it important to limit the amount of sodium in your diet?

Sodium causes the body to hold onto too much extra fluid, which will cause high blood pressure and weight gain. This puts a lot of stress on the heart and can also cause damage to the kidneys and liver.

How can you use a food label to judge if a product is low in sodium?

If the “% Daily Value” (seen as “%DV” on the label) is 5% or less, this product is low in sodium! If the %DV is 20% or more, this product is very high in sodium and should be limited.

What are some examples of lean sources of protein?

Protein is an important part of any healthy diet to let your body grow, build, and maintain muscle, but choosing the right protein is also important to get the health benefits. Choosing lean proteins will optimize muscle strength and metabolism, promote weight loss and maintenance, and you will feel more satisfied. Lean sources of protein include protein sources with less fat, including fish, skinless chicken and turkey, lean or extra lean beef, low-fat dairy, eggs, and vegetable sources of protein, like in tofu, beans, peas, and lentils.

Why are some fats "good" and some fats "bad"? What are some examples?

Fat is something that our bodies need to survive and maintain a healthy diet. They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel. However, it’s easy to get confused about “good” fats and “bad” fats. The “good” fats are the unsaturated fats, which include mono- and polyunsaturated fats. When eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated and trans fats, cholesterol levels may decrease and risk of heart disease may be reduced. These “good” polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish, and mackerel), flaxseed, walnuts, and most vegetable oils. The “good” monounsaturated fats are found in olive, canola, and peanut oils, olives, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. Tip: A quick and easy way to determine if a fat is “good” or unsaturated is to see if the fat is liquid at room temperature (oils). The bad fats are the types of fat that should be eaten sparingly, including saturated and trans fatty acids. Both of these types of fat raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and increase risk for heart disease. Saturated fats are found in vegetable fats that are solid at room temperature (coconut and palm oils) and animal products (meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, and eggs). Tip: A quick and easy way to determine if a fat is “bad” or saturated is to see if the fat is solid at room temperature (butter and lard).Trans fats are liquid oils that have been solidified into “partially hydrogenated” fats. These fats are found in frying, baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some margarines. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" and "shortening" in the list of ingredients, then this product contains trans fats, which are not healthy for your body.

Why is it important for people, especially growing children, to consume calcium-rich foods / beverages?

It is important to understand that calcium is needed by people of all ages, including growing children. By not consuming enough calcium, people may not develop their optimal bone mass, which can put them at risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Studies have also shown that consuming foods and beverages that are rich in calcium promotes weight loss and maintenance. It is recommended to consume 3 dairy servings per day to provide enough calcium in the diet. In general, dairy servings can consist of 8 fluid ounces or 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt (or an amount similar to the size of a tennis ball), and 1.5 ounces of cheese (or an amount similar to the size of 4 dice). Remember that it is recommended that children consume 3 age-appropriate servings of dairy products per day to get enough calcium in their diet. For children between the ages of 2 and 8, an age appropriate serving of dairy food adds up to a total of two cups of milk or two servings of equivalent calcium-rich dairy product. Calcium rich foods include milk, cheese, and yogurt. However calcium is also found in salmon, tofu, rhubarb, sardines, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, okra, white beans, baked beans, broccoli, peas, Brussel sprouts, sesame seeds, bok choy, almonds, and calcium fortified foods.

How much water do you need to drink each day?

Water is very important because 60% of your body weight is made up of water. Water helps to flush toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells, and provides a moist environment where needed. You lose some water each day through every day mechanisms, like breathing and perspiration, so you must replenish your body’s water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water. It is recommended to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day to maintain good hydration.

Why is exercise so important for adults and children?

Being physically active is an important key to staying healthy. There are many benefits of exercise on the body. Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your heart strong on two reasons why exercise is so great. In addition to that, exercise strengthens bones, increases flexibility, and can improve your mood because of the endorphins that are released. Studies have also shown that students who exercise daily perform better on tests compared to students who don't have exercise built into their daily routine.

What are some ways to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine?

There are many ways to be physically active. Everything counts, so whether it is taking a brisk walk after dinner or playing on a sports team with organized practices, it is all going to add up and help to improve your health! Exercising with other people can be more successful and fun than exercising alone, so think of active family activities. Stretching and doing different movements while watching TV (or at least during the commercials) could be one place to start. Another way to increase physical activity is to spend more time outside on the weekends. For children, screen time (TV, computer, video games) should be equal to or less than the amount of time spent playing and being active. If your child has a half hour soccer practice, then he/she could have a half hour of TV time. Keeping this as a rule will help encourage children to be more active and provide an incentive if needed.

What is an RD?

RD actually stands for registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are food and nutrition experts and qualified professionals in the field of nutrition. They help to translate science-based nutritional information into practical solutions and every day terms for the general public. By using their expertise, they develop individualized and personalized nutrition plans, separate nutrition facts from fads, translate nutritional science and research into useful every day information and can put individuals on the path towards a healthy weight, eating healthfully, and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

What is a nutritionist?

Not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The title nutritionist doesn’t represent a nationally recognized professional credential. In some states, licensure is required to practice as a nutritionist, but in other states, there are no nutrition or dietetic licensure laws. Therefore, the term nutritionist may be completely unregulated. In these states, anyone may call themselves a “nutritionist”, despite the presence or absence of relevant preparation, training, experience, and continuing education in nutrition. In some instances, a nutritionist may hold a bachelor’s degree in food, nutrition and dietetics, but may not hold the credential of a registered dietitian.

Too much of anything isn't good--even GO foods!

Although some foods are healthier than others, it is important to eat a well-balanced diet and not consume more food than our bodies need. Overeating anything...even the "GO" not healthy because eating too many calories can lead to weight gain and cause other health problems.