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Houle strived to make lunches healthier at Page Hilltop

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AYER — Did you ever wonder how the school lunch menus get created? Or maybe how they decide to try new foods?

At Page Hilltop School, new Food Service Director Thomas Houle and Assistant Principal Amy Emma, have created a Lunch Committee to help “taste-test” new products and offer opinions on what should be offered for food choices.

The committee is made up of a representative from each of the third and fourth grade classes. The participants were randomly selected from the pool of students who expressed an interest in participating in this process. The participating fourth-graders are Kyle Coutu, Jose Rosales, Jake Hannon and Samantha Igo. The participating third-graders are Kaci Naughton Gabriella Furbay, Nick Cherico, Bridget McPartlan, and Danny Walton.

At the May 5 meeting, the students were asked to taste-test three new items that might be added to the menu. They were pizza, French toast and chicken nuggets.

“I want the kids to taste them and tell me what they think is different about these items versus the pizza, French toast and chicken nuggets we normally serve,” said Houle.

After sampling the entr es, some thought there was more cheese on the pizza, less sauce or a different kind of cheese. All of those answers were incorrect. The difference was actually that whole-wheat flour was used in making the varieties tasted.

Houle asked the children why they thought whole-wheat flour might be good to use. Most of them knew it was healthier, but they didn’t know why.

“There are more nutrients in whole wheat flour because it is a whole grain and not refined,” said Houle. “It retains more nutritional value like fiber and other essential vitamins and minerals.

“We want all of our students at Ayer Elementary to eat the right foods in order to get proper nutrition, and this is one way to do that,” he said.

Houle, who graduated from Framingham State with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food service management, was pleased with the outcome of the taste-test because the kids didn’t seem to notice the change of ingredient.

“We are thrilled to be able to help our students make good choices for themselves, (both) educationally and nutritionally,” said Emma.

“I think it is important to get the kids’ opinions because they are our customers,” said Houle. “If we’re serving food they won’t eat, no one’s happy.”

Lunch Committee member Kaci Naughton brought a list that her class compiled of items they would like to see on the menu. Some of the choices were turkey dinners, stuffed shells, ribs and chili cheese fries.

“The more input the better!” said Houle.

Houle has been working on similar “tasting” programs in the middle and high schools that, he said, have been very helpful. The Ayer School District, with the children’s health in mind as well as new Health and Wellness guidelines from the state, have started to implement some better food options.

“There are healthy vending machines at the high school, and we have replaced empty calorie desserts with fruits and raw vegetables,” Houle said. “We are striving for a healthier district, and with the help of the health teachers and the Ayer school community we will achieve that goal.”