After receiving national recognition for strides to improve school lunch nutrition, Pickerington Local School District officials maintain this year's food offerings will be healthier still.
Based on further infusions of fruits and vegetables and reductions in saturated fats and calories of school lunches, district food service officials and Toll Gate Middle School last school year won a Healthy U.S. School Challenge Award -- and a $1,500 grant -- from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.
According to Pickerington Food Service Director Judy Riley, that feat was the result of ongoing efforts to respond to mandates by the federal government to provide better nutrition to students and calls from parents to improve the quality of breakfast and lunches, while also implementing more nutrition and healthy lifestyle education in classrooms.
In 2013-14, Riley said, parents and students can expect more of the same.
This summer, district food service staff members, as well as selected teachers and administrators completed a healthy cooking training program provided by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
She said more healthy recipes will be introduced to school breakfasts and lunches as a result.
"We try to improve it every year," Riley said.
"We're now offering a variety of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and salads made fresh daily for all levels of students.
"Did I mention they were fresh?"
In keeping with the dedication to provide fresh foods to students, Riley said sandwiches and other foods prepared daily are provided to students.
She also noted the district offers its own homemade recipes for dishes such as tomato soup, chicken noodle soup and "fiesta mac," which is comprised of whole-grain macaroni, taco meat and salsa, served with whole-grain nacho chips.
As this school year unfolds, Riley said, the district will implement recipes learned through the Wexner Medical Center program, including an orange sorbet made mostly with Mandarin oranges and lemon juice, and peanut butter and jalapeno-ranch salad dressings.
"We provide one-half cup of fruit or one-half cup of vegetables -- or both -- with every lunch," Riley said.
"We've come a long way in just serving the fresh fruits and vegetables. We didn't do that 10 years ago."
Lunches are provided to PLSD students daily for $2.25 for elementary students and $2.50 for middle school, junior high school and high school students.
Students who qualify for financial hardship pay 40 cents.
Breakfast prices are $1.50 for students K-12 and 30 cents for those qualify for discounted rates.
Additional information about the district's food services and nutrition is available at www.pickerington.k12.oh.us.