The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 18, 2012

ON THE SCHOOL MENU

Cook weighs in on lunch guidelines

From a cook’s perspective, students are getting more food and more high quality food under the new national school lunch guidelines.

But change can be hard. Park Middle School cafeteria manager Kay Glover remembers when the school first started implementing whole wheat bread. Parents and children who were not accustomed to it were vocal in their disdain.

Today it’s as if they have always eaten whole wheat, she said.

“Now we are in the third week in September and I think the students here are already used to it. We started off encouraging them to accept all five items on the menu for the day and to try everything. Very few refuse main components,” she said.

Raleigh County School’s menu for Monday was to be hot dogs.

Due to an ordering issue, Park Middle School’s cook did a fast turn-around and prepared Friday’s menu on the fly.

This reporter and a Register-Herald photographer joined the students for fish nuggets topped with lettuce and tomato in a whole grain wrap. On the side were fresh orange slices, fried rice with eggs, peas and carrots, and salsa to dip the wrap in.

Along with the meal, this reporter had 8 ounces of water and 1 percent milk.

The photographer and I were full and the students seemed to be eating and enjoying the food.

We both ate all five components and were full.

While we watched the first lunch crew go through the line, it seems only an occasional child refused the salsa.

Other than that, plates were full.

But as Glover pointed out, many dishes are new this year. Serving fish to the students in Raleigh County was new this year.

And it is not just the students who are working hard to get used to the new national guidelines.

Glover said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is searching for bidders and contracting for items they have never had ordered by schools before, like the fish.

At times, ordering biweekly has been a challenge. Glover said she has had to really plan and adjust the orders.

“I’ve found that the kids are eating much more fresh fruits and vegetables and we are having to make sure we are ordering enough to keep up with them,” she said.

At lunch, in addition to the fruit component served on the tray, Park Middle has a grab-n-go bowl of whole fruit available to students.

And it can’t just be a bowl of apples.

The cooks are working to make sure students have a variety available to them.

All this means more food and higher quality for students; Glover noted that the cost of food has doubled by ordering fresh produce and less processed food.

And for the cooks, fresh fruits and veggies mean more time, washing, cleaning and cutting go into each meal.

“It has been more work, but I can’t say enough good things about the new menus. We like the program and feel like the students are getting more and better food,” she said.

“The kids are afraid they are never going to have chicken nuggets again. But we are. We can’t and shouldn’t have them once a week, but they will get them again,” she said.

And while desserts as school lunch has come to know them (cookies, brownies and this reporter’s all-time favorite — peanut butter balls) won’t be around, Glover says their first dessert item, a fruit dowdy, which is like a cobbler, is on the menu this month.

Cooks are also having to go through more training under the new guidelines and are working to add more flavor using spices that don’t increase the calorie value of the meal.

Free school recipes that fall under the National Nutritional Standards are available on the USDA’s Team Nutrition website, teamnutrition.usda. gov/Resources/usda_recipes. html.

Raleigh County Schools also use a USDA-approved food service management tool and recipes called NutraKids.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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