Watching our peas and cucumbers

Teachers no longer have to wonder if the beef and bean burrito in the cafeteria busts their Weight Watcher points. Anyone can now look up the nutritional information, including WW points, of items served at their school on the Shelby County Board of Education Web site.

“We want to be able to show that we are providing nutritious meals to our kids,” said Child Nutrition Coordinator Maureen Alexander. “Plus, it allows our school community to make healthier choices.”

Posting the amount of sodium in a hamburger isn’t the only step they’ve taken. Students now consume items like sweet potato wedges and spinach supreme. They’re also regularly introduced to more exotic fruits like kiwi.

Nutrition education manager Jaime Guess said the system works to offer a wider variety.

“We provide dried beans and peas at least once a day, five different veggies each week (at least three of which are dark green or orange), and at least five different fruits a week,” Guess said.

She said they also must meet the USDA’s recommended daily allowance for students.

“We have calorie requirements for breakfast and lunch,” Guess said. “As well as requirements for the percentages of protein, iron, Vitamin A and sodium.”

The target number of calories for kids is 520 at breakfast and 730 at lunch, Guess said.

Take this menu for example.

When students and teachers fill their plates on spaghetti day, they consume the following amount of calories: spaghetti 322, onion rings 213, carrots 51, salad with dressing 46, garlic bread 162, pineapple 30 and milk 110. For those counting, that’s 934 calories in all. They don’t, however, have to gobble down every morsel.

Eliminating just the onion rings saves you 213 calories.

Many students also arrive early for breakfast. If they grab the breakfast pizza, sliced peaches and a milk, they consume about 375 calories.

The two meals combine for 1,309 calories, but remember, forgoing one or two items puts everything at a healthier range.

Vincent Elementary Principal Beverly Miller said her cafeteria workers also play a larger part in keeping kids healthier.

“For a while students served themselves,” Miller said. “But we’re moving back to the ladies in the lunchroom serving them, so we can help them control portions.”

The calorie and nutrient counts also help school nurses who work with children with diabetes. They use the analysis and carb count cards to assist students who need to stay on top of their blood sugar levels. Alexander said this furthers the school system’s mission to keep kids healthy and in the classroom.

To find the nutrition analysis, visit www.shelbyed.k12.al.us and click on Child Nutrition to the left. Once there, you’ll find the analysis link and PDF versions for breakfast and lunch.

Now, what your family consumes for dinner at home is up to you.