On Oct. 12, New Jersey Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Joe Atchison III marked National School Lunch Week with a visit to Samsel Upper Elementary School in Middlesex County to learn about the school’s and Sayreville Public School District’s student meal program.

Atchison was joined by United States Department of Agriculture staff, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other state and local officials. The day included those in attendance seeing the lunchroom setup at the school, which includes a salad bar that provides the option for students to have fresh fruits and vegetables each day. The visit coincided with “build your own burger day,” which included 100% beef burgers on whole grain buns, along with baked beans. Students also had the option to choose a romaine garden salad, cucumber tomato salad,  golden delicious apples, peaches, grapes and bananas.

“The Samsel School of the Sayreville District is doing a tremendous job of offering healthy choices on its menus,” Atchison said. “This encourages students to make the right decisions on what they will eat, creating a foundation for good dietary habits that can last a lifetime.”

The Sayreville School District participates in the USDA Department of Defense Direct Delivery Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which allows schools to use commodity funds to buy fresh produce. The district has diverted over $125,000 to the program for school year 2023-2024.

“We offer our students the opportunity to make good choices about what they eat by presenting a wide range of healthy choices for lunch,”  Sayreville Director of School Nutrition and Food Services Nick Cittadino said. “Establishing healthy eating habits at an early age is important.”

New Jersey schools follow the nutrition standards set forth by the USDA, which incorporates a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat and fat-free milk options, with limitations on saturated fats, trans-fats, sodium and calories.

“I have made it a top legislative priority to ensure healthy school meals for all New Jersey students,” Coughlin said. “We passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Murphy, to guarantee free breakfast and lunch for students from families making up to 200% of the poverty level. This is a pillar of our affordability agenda to help working and middle-class families. It’s not just meeting our moral obligation — it’s good policy. Study after study shows this leads to better nutrition and learning outcomes for kids. We need to remove any stigma around free lunch. No child should feel shame for having a healthy meal at school.”

National School Lunch Week was created by the School Nutrition Association to encourage participation in the National School Lunch Program and recognize the school districts providing healthy meals every day. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture administers the program in the Garden State. More than 650,000 children in New Jersey participate in the National School Lunch Program.