The produce section at Stop & Shop

Because It‘s Good for You

Tuesday was the last day of the regular school year. Two-and-a-half months of no more classes, no more books… and for some children, no more easy access to the free, nutritionally balanced breakfasts and lunches regularly provided by New Haven public schools.

A number of local businesses and non-profits have realized that the summer is a time for children to be better schooled on what, and how, they’re eating. The groups range from CARE (the Yale-based Community Alliance for Research and Engagement) to the New Haven Mental health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership, devoted to “ensuring that pregnant and parenting women achieve the highest possible standards of emotional health and well-being throughout their lives.” Much of the focus for these food-awareness programs goes to low-income families.

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Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven

The CitySeed farmers’ markets in Wooster Square, Edgewood Park, Fair Haven and downown have a program which provides incentives for people buying fresh fruit and vegetables through the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food-stamp program. Eligible shoppers get a “Spend up to $10, Get up to $10” (in additional fresh-food) deal, while funding lasts. Its work with SNAP clients garnered CitySeed a Golden Grocer Award from the U.S Department of Agriculture in 2007. During the school year, CitySeed offers a multi-disciplinary to local nursery schools which is designed to “grow healthy readers and eaters.”

One of the largest organizations that’s beating the drums for increased health awareness is Stop & Shop. The supermarket chain already has a national program in place, Kid Healthy Ideas, which spreads nutritional awareness through newsletters, store promotions and student field trips.

The Stop & Shop store in Dwight Plaza on Whalley Avenue, already distinguished by its community involvement in its neighborhood, has come up with a way to augment Kid Healthy Ideas and connect it to state food-assistance programs.

The crux of the campaign is stickers. The Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop is labeling breakfast foods which meet national guidelines for healthy foods, but also directing consumers to healthy products which can be purchased through the state-run WIC food-assistance program. WIC is a “special supplemental nutrition program” named for the people who are eligible for it: Women, Infants and Children.

The WIC standards can be confusing. A number of breakfast cereals meet the criteria, for instance, but Oat Squares doesn’t because the box is the wrong size. So it gets a “healthy” sticker but not a “WIC approved” one. Kate Walton, Community Relations Coordinator at the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop, also describes how 100% whole wheat bread is WIC-approved, though “light wheat bread,” which has slightly different ingredients, is not. Both, however, qualify for “Healthy Kids” stickers.

The Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop’s initiative caught the eye of the supermarket chain’s regional headquarters and may spread to other markets. The Stop & Shop initiative, Walton says, “is for all kids, but we realized that it would be good to be in harmony with WIC.” The central WIC offices in Hartford have consulted on the program.

Community Relations is Walton’s job description, “but there’s some leeway in what that means. I thought that people should know about healthy snacks,” which led to presentations at local libraries and further community outreach. The sticker idea began, Walton explains, “when we had a Healthy Kids Summit at the store back in February. Tim Cipriano was one of the panelists, and he had a mission similar to ours.”

Cipriano is the Executive Director for Food Services for the City of New Haven. He’s a big brassy guy who’s leading the charge toward providing a wider variety of nutritional choices—salad bars, vegetarian options—in school lunch programs. The Food Services department also sent out a Free Summer Meals Food Truck into lower-income New Haven communities last summer.

Cipriano has his own “Healthy Kids First” initiative regarding New Haven School Food. Improvements in school lunch menus have involved adding more fresh vegetables (including in salad bars) and removing less healthy items such as flavored milks. This month, the buoyant Cipriano delivered his message at the launch of Stop & Shop’s Healthy Kids campaign to remind an audience made up of students from Wexler-Grant Community School:

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially in summer!”

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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