A Focus on Healthy Food
CLINTON - These days everything has its own national week, and that goes for school breakfasts, too. This March 3 through the 7 is National School Breakfast week. In observance of this special time, Jon Siciliano, food service director for the Clinton School System, has ramped up and expanded the school breakfast program offered in town.
"Breakfast has been offered for a long time at The Morgan High School," explained Siciliano. "Now we also offer a grab-and-go breakfast program at Pierson and we will be starting a similar breakfast program at Joel."
Per the parameters of federal government standards, school breakfasts need to offer a grain, a fruit, and dairy. Studies have established that there is a definite link between eating breakfast and academic success. Not being hungry allows kids to concentrate more easily and perform better in school, which is one reason Clinton is working toward offering breakfast at all of its schools.
"Some kids are not able to get breakfast at home, so we are working to make sure that every student has the opportunity to get a healthy breakfast and start their day right," explained Siciliano, adding that those students who currently receive free or reduced-cost lunch programs are also able to apply for the breakfast programs.
Currently, some typical breakfast choices available through the Pierson School breakfast grab-and-go program include whole-grain corn muffins, strawberries, an applesauce cup, and choice of milk. The cost is $1.75.
"The breakfast program is one more example of how the school system has been proactive in addressing the needs of our students," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jack Cross, who is excited about the new lineup and healthier food choices Siciliano has been working toward for Clinton students.
According to Siciliano, Clinton is considered a severe need school for breakfast and has received $3,000 in state funding to offset the cost of the program for each school that offers a breakfast program. In addition, the Joel School has received a one-time grant in the amount of $3,000 from the New England Dairy & Food Council to be used to purchase rolling cooler bags, which will be used to transport breakfast items directly to the classroom for students.
In conjunction with the breakfast programs, Siciliano has also been working diligently on pumping up the school lunch programs with additional fresh fruits and vegetables. He explained that last year Clinton spent $15,000 of the allotted Department of Defense's commodity dollars for the purchase of fresh fruits and veggies. Taking full advantage of the healthy program, Clinton Schools receive weekly deliveries of fruits and vegetables, all of which are grown in the United States. (The schools get local produce delivered when it is available).
"No longer do our lunches include the soggy, limp canned green beans. Now we have appetizing fresh fruits and vegetables, which are more nutritious," said Siciliano. "We offer choices to the younger kids like celery sticks, cucumber coins, fresh apples, oranges, and tangerines, as well as fresh salads, and at the high school level we offer a fresh sandwich bar, which includes all fresh vegetables."
Siciliano did admit, however, that changing the lunch options initially took some getting used to.
"Changing eating habits for people of any age is always a challenge, but we are working hard to ensure the kids are getting healthy lunches full of the nutrition they need," he said.
Some new food options include the McMorgan, a baked chicken sandwich served at the high school, on a whole-grain roll coupled with baked garlic fries, celery sticks, and mixed fruit cups, as well as fresh-made, whole-grain pizza.
"We are careful not to turn kids off, but we no longer offer things like sloppy Joes and corn dogs," shared Siciliano.
To offset some of the cost of the food service program, Siciliano has been pushing the school catering initiative. To date, they have catered events including the Henry Carter Hull Gala, the annual Football Banquet, and several Boy Scout and Girl Scout dinners. In addition, every other week on Thursday, Siciliano offers a pre-made dinner choice that staff members and administrators in the school system can order. At a cost of just $7, choices include delicious entrées such as chicken Puntanesca, complete with a fresh side salad and garlic toast.
"We deliver the dinners to the schools and they just need to be reheated at home," explained Siciliano, who attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence and has a passion for food. "This program is very popular, and we hope that it gets even more successful in the future."
"The collaborative effort between the Board of Education, the PTA, and state agencies reflects one of many ways that the district is providing resources for the school community in cost-effective ways," said Cross.
Clinton also offers a very special backpack food program, providing weekend food for students at the Pierson and Joel Schools. This allows children who qualify to take home a backpack full of three meals a day for both weekend days.
"Making sure that kids are fed is very important to me and the school system," said Siciliano. "I enjoy working with kids and I want to work to ensure that we offer them healthy food choices whenever and however we can."
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