Brookhaven schools receive nutrition award

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, August 1, 2013

     Brookhaven School District Child Nutrition Director Tonya Thomas-McSweyn is part of a cooperative of Mississippi school districts that received the 2013 Child Nutrition Best Practices award from the United States Department of Agriculture. The award recognizes the group’s innovative ideas in reducing sodium and promoting a healthy school environment.

     The Statewide Purchasing Cooperative Product Management Committee has been developing low sodium recipes for school lunches for the entire state. It includes Monroe County, Desoto County, Tupelo, Yazoo City, Starkville, Smith County, Ocean Springs and Brookhaven school districts, along with Saint Vincent de Paul School and the Friends of Children Head Start Centers.

     Thomas-McSweyn, president of the group, said the committee set out to find a way to reduce sodium in school lunch programs as part of the requirements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law in 2010. They began by focusing on the mixes cafeterias use for dishes like red beans and rice, spaghetti and chili.

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     “Our first target under the Hunger-free Healthy Kids act was to reduce sodium intake,” Thomas-McSweyn said. “We were using mixes that had a higher sodium count than we’d like, and, under the act, we have target deadlines we must meet to reduce sodium further over the next few years.”

     Director for the Mississippi Child Nutrition Purchasing Cooperative Priscilla Ammerman arranged a contract with Professor Chef David Bruno at the Culinary Institute of America to develop no-salt recipes, Thomas-McSweyn said.

     “Chef Bruno brought to the table what he thought was the best spice blends for Southwestern, Italian and Creole dishes,” she said.

     She said it was nutrition staff from the Starkville and Brookhaven school districts that made up the team that did the hands-on development of the recipes.

     “We made the spice blends ourselves,” she said. “We also had to create recipes to accommodate the high volume in our cafeterias. We tried out the blends for a year and by December 2012 we had recipes for the whole state to use.”

     She said the next step is getting food companies to change their products.

     “Our next target is getting manufacturers to change their formulas,” Thomas-McSweyn said. “It takes manufacturers some time to catch up with new developments in recipes.”