Food facts, fast

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools families now have food facts at their fingertips to help them make healthy meal choices throughout the school year.

School Nutrition Services (SNS) has introduced Nutrislice, a digital tool that provides transparency and information about cafeteria meals through interactive menus. The new tool is already in use at more than 1,500 school districts and can be accessed through a free mobile app or the CMS website.

"Nutrislice allows you to go deeper in detail if you want to know more about school meals," said Cathy Beam, SNS executive director. "It also streamlines our communication process from point A to point Z, starting with the planned menus through the digital signage in the cafeterias."

For any menu item, Nutrislice, will provide a color photo, allergen and nutritional information โ€“ from carbs and calories to fiber and fat. For example, parents curious about the Char-Meck-A-Nator sandwich can see it has 320 calories and 18 grams of protein, but also milk, wheat and soy, to which some children are allergic. Parents can flag specific allergens and meals containing them will be struck through on their menu. Another filter can identify items that qualify as vegan, vegetarian or both.

Parents can sort menus in several ways and bookmark as many as they need. The menus are printer-friendly for those who want hard copies and can be translated into multiple languages with just a few clicks. There is also a rating system for each item, contact information for customer feedback and a news tab for SNS food updates.

8.15.18.HealthyFood Choices_inside pic.jpgNutrislice also provides a better way to manage the digital messages that appear on the 400 TV screens in cafeterias across the district. Penny Davis, SNS marketing technician, said what once was a multistep process has now become seamless.

"Digital signage is especially important in the high schools and Nutrislice gives us a better way to manage it," Davis said. "It streamlines the process, the information is consistent and there's less human error."

This is the first initiative under School Nutrition Services, which was formerly known as Child Nutrition. SNS rebranded to align with similar departments across the country and to reflect the scope of the department, said Margaret Cameron, SNS wellness and marketing specialist. During the school year, SNS serves 100,000 meals a day โ€“ three meals a day at many schools โ€“ and runs the largest summer-meal program in the state.

SNS consistently rolls out new food combinations to meet religious, ethnic and taste preferences and to encourage students to try new things. Beam said SNS plays a part in the full life of a child by teaching them how to eat and emphasized that school meals are both healthy and cost-effective.

"We want children to eat meals with us and to be the provider of choice for a parent," Beam said. "Nutrislice is innovative and we're excited to be able to bring that to CMS."

To access Nutrislice, go to Cafeteria Menus under Spotlight on the CMS homepage for the web version. The free mobile app can be downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play. The mobile version can also be viewed by clicking the School Menus tab on the right side of the CMS homepage.