Schools’ healthier meals aim to boost brains

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 27, 2013

 Utica Community Schools Food Service Director Robert Brady sits in the cafeteria of Stevenson High School Aug. 22.

Utica Community Schools Food Service Director Robert Brady sits in the cafeteria of Stevenson High School Aug. 22.

Photo by Sean Work

The iconic apple will be far from the only fruit or healthy snack to make a grand appearance in schools this fall.

In the Utica Community Schools district, Food Service Director Robert Brady said school cafeterias will continue their rollout of healthier meals as a way of boosting students’ mental activity while helping them maintain a healthy weight.

“As you know, childhood obesity has been a big concern for a number of years,” he said. “We’re working really hard to combat it.”

In the last couple of years, the district has worked to abide by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s direction in incorporating whole grains, fresh fruits and colorful vegetables into meals, Brady said.

He said the district sometimes makes healthier alternatives, such as offering sweet potato fries as well as baked French fries, or skim or 1 percent milk instead of 2 percent milk. Other times, the schools introduce new foods such as hummus. Green and yellow veggies are also frequently introduced.

“We have a saying: Make your plate a rainbow,” he said.

According to Brady, UCS’s breakfast program serves breakfast sandwiches, fruit, milk, granola bars and cereal. For lunch, meals like chicken, pizza and sandwiches are still on the menu, but they use whole grains and leaner meats, Brady said.

So far, the response from students has been positive, he said.

“We’ve had no drop off in the numbers of breakfasts or lunches that we’ve served,” he said.

Holistic health practitioner Bethany Perry from Rochester Hills has some additional tips for parents who wish to keep their kids’ brains nourished and active during the school year. She plans to lecture about brain health and eating at the Better Health Market in Sterling Heights Sept. 7.

Perry said it’s better to pursue whole foods than processed foods. For instance, chicken nuggets made from scratch with healthier ingredients are superior to those that come from a box, she said.

“Balance is really key, and making sure there is lots of fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Involve the kids in growing them and making smoothies.”

When it comes to brain boosters, Perry recommends a moderate portion of healthy fats, like avocado, olive oil or coconut oil. She said lean proteins and vegetables are also important for kids — even for breakfast.

“Carbohydrates for breakfast is probably the least healthy breakfasts,” she said. “I’m not anti-bagel, but not for breakfast.”

Besides concerns over brain health and obesity, children may also need to be aware of their food allergies. Perry said some of the most common food allergies are to eggs, gluten, peanuts and dairy.

Perry added that parents should be mindful when preparing food to avoid those allergens, if necessary. “There’s always a way to move around it,” she said.

Perry will lead a discussion about brain-healthy foods at 11 a.m. Sept. 7 at the Better Health Market, 33452 Van Dyke, in Sterling Heights. Admission is free, but guests should RSVP to reserve a seat by calling (586) 498-0525.

Learn more about Utica Community Schools at www.uticak12. org or call (586) 797-1000.