These are just some of the common questions we receive from parents related to the breakfast and lunch programs at school. I am writing this to inform parents, staff and students of the regulations the food service department must adhere to when offering breakfast and lunch to our students. Today’s meal programs are not what they were when you or I were in school, that’s for sure. I am aging myself here but when I was in high school the USDA determined ketchup was a vegetable and it counted as a vegetable serving. Obviously that is not the case any longer, as we have definitely come a long way since then by offering students healthy and nutritious meals at school.
Duluth Edison Charter Schools participate in the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program. Both of these programs are heavily regulated to ensure we are providing our students with healthy meals while they are at school. Over the course of the last five years or so there have been dramatic changes to what we can and cannot serve during meals at school. A lot of this is thanks to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. There have been great initiatives we are working on within our schools to get kids moving more and to eat more healthy foods.
MEAL COMPONENTS AND NUTRIENT INFORMATION
There are meal components and quantities that must be offered to all students. We are required to serve foods that meet very strict dietary specifications, including limiting the amount of sodium in foods, decreasing the number of calories and saturated fats, serving foods that are made with whole grains, and offering an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables on our menu and in our salad bar.
OFFER VERSUS SERVE
Students in grades 2-8 have the opportunity to select the items they would like to eat. This is called “offer versus serve”. Offer versus Serve was created to reduce plate waste and allow students to select foods they intend to eat. Under OvS a student is able to refuse two of the five food components offered to them at lunch. The five food components that must be offered at lunch include: meat/meat alternate, grains that are whole grain rich, vegetable, fruit, and milk. They are able to refuse one of the four food items offered to them at breakfast under OvS. The ladies who work in the cafeteria are constantly asked by students “Why do I have to take that piece of fruit, or why do I have to take a full cup of lettuce”? The answer is we must make sure the students are selecting enough food to fulfill the requirements to meet the nutrient standards set forth in the federal meal programs. We also must make sure each student is taking a meal that meets the regulatory guidelines under OvS.
Our cafeteria staff has been very proactive with these nutrition initiatives and has been providing students with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables on our salad bars at each school. Students in grades 2-8 are allowed to select from the vast offerings on the self serve salad bar. We have seen more and more students trying new healthy things such as hummus and jicama. This is very exciting to see, and we are looking at ways to continue to allow them to try new items during lunch. Our youngest students, those in Kindergarten and first grade are served all five components for lunch. This is due to their ability to make selections in a timely manner. It would take too long for them to select what they want to eat, taking away from their eating time. We have a lot of very good eaters in our younger students and want that to continue as they look forward to the time they become second graders and they can select their own foods.
BREAKFAST IS AVAILABLE BEFORE CLASSES BEGIN FOR EVERYONE
Did you know that breakfast is available for all students at school every morning? Studies show that a hungry student doesn’t learn as well as a student who has started their day off with a healthy breakfast. Hungry students’ attention spans are less than those students who are full and ready to learn. So, encourage your student to stop in the cafeteria for breakfast before they go off to their classroom. And, did you know ALL Kindergarten students receive FREE breakfast in Minnesota schools regardless of your income eligibility?
FOOD ALLERGIES AND SPECIAL REQUESTS
Finally, I want to inform you about allergies and special diet statements. It seems that food allergies are on the rise among children these days. Often times it is very difficult to manage those allergies. The cafeteria staff pays very close attention and treats each student with allergies with extra care to make sure they are serving them a safe meal they will enjoy to eat. Again, as with all federally funded programs, there is paperwork that needs to be completed. There are forms that we send to households (and that are available on our website, under the food service page, under special diet statements), when we receive word a student has an allergy. Your child’s physician must complete these forms. Having the most information as we can get on these forms is most beneficial for the kitchen staff. We will work closely with the parents, student and in some cases the physician to provide safe foods to your student at mealtime.
PARENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME TO EAT WITH YOUR CHILD AT SCHOOL
We welcome all parents to come to school and have lunch with your student. Adult meals are $3.50 and are payable ahead of time in any school office. Come and see all of the great things we are doing in the cafeteria. Happy Eating! I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or concerns about our meal programs. You can contact me by email at email@example.com.
Sue Lewis, CDM, CFPP
Food Service Manager
Duluth Edison Charter Schools