A $51,000 federal grant will fund a joint project between the Rutgers University (NJ) center and the state Department of Agriculture, Foodfacts.com has learned.
The project, which will run for about one year, aims to pair local produce with local schools in an attempt to create meals that are healthy, grown in the state and kid-approved.
“What’s most important is that the children will like it,” said Diane Holtaway, associate director at the center.
Farmers, who are often unable to compete with larger food service providers, will likely work directly with the center who will then market the product to schools.
The end products, after being tested by students, must be affordable for schools to purchase.
Vending machines loaded with soft drinks and candy bars may soon be a thing of the past in schools. Packaged apple slices, nearly nonexistent a few years ago, have turned into a multi-million dollar industry according to Holtaway.
“If kids understand that a good-for-you product can really be tasty they will go for it,” said Holtaway.
She also noted plans for a high-density pasta sauce with ample vitamins and nutrients that will be made from tomatoes grown in the area. Tomatoes, which are now in season, can be processed at the center, frozen and used in school meals when needed.
“The tail end of the crops come in September and October. We’re trying to extend the season,” said Holtaway.
“Unfortunately in a lot of settings kids don’t have the opportunity for these foods,” she added.
A reform of eating habits is coming from the top down.
The U.S. Senate passed the Child Nutrition Bill on August 5, an initiative First Lady Michelle Obama has taken personal interest in. The bill will require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains be available in meals.
In Philadelphia, $15 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fight obesity. Some of this money will help stock fresh produce in corner stores, where many urban residents must turn to for every item on their grocery list.
Steve Liberati knows plenty about kids, urban areas and nutrition. In 2006 he opened a youth fitness club in Camden and is currently working with the Rutgers Food Innovation Center to help him create and market his own brand of health-conscious foods.
“Steve’s Club”, the non-profit fitness center, opened it’s doors to younger teens who “needed some direction” according to Liberati.
“They were dealing with guns, drugs, the whole nine,” said Liberati.
At one point he challenged his group to a six-day, weight loss regimen.
“The kids told me their biggest challenge was during the day at school with hot dogs and french fries,” he said.
They looked into creating their own food alternatives when the blend of beef jerky, raw macadamias, almonds, pecans and dried fruits came about.
His “Paleokit” made at the Rutgers center adheres to the Paleolithic diet and the prehistoric meal plan of that era; meat, berries and nuts.
Some kids from his fitness club will come to the center three days each week to assemble the food packages which are sold world-wide, but started out on the counter of Liberati’s other gym.
“It’s a good way for them to make honest money,” he said.
His single-serving “Paleokit” contains 180 calories and 14 grams of protein. A regular size “Snickers” bar has 271 calories and 4.3 grams of protein.
Liberati plans to do more food education for his kids soon and hopes to extend teachings in the future.
“Most kids think cherry or strawberry flavored drinks are going to be good for them.”