West Side News

Menus at elementary schools get healthy tweak

Romaine strikes out but broccoli knocks it out of the park in the lunch line

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Richard Elementary School cooks Cathie Hilton (left) and Robyn Klaus help first-grade students with their "walking tacos" during lunch at the school Thursday, Aug. 29. School district cooks recently helped revise the lunch menus, maximizing the healthy choices that students best like to eat.

New federal nutritional guidelines made it even trickier for the South-Western City School District to maintain a balance between serving students what they should eat with what they want to eat.

"We did have a drop off in student participation at lunch," after incorporating healthier food choices last year, district food services supervisor Beth Glitt said.

"Not a big one, but we've tried to respond to that with some tweaks this year to the menu at our elementary schools," she said.

Some flexibility in the federal guidelines also has helped, she said.

The district strives to get 70 percent of students to purchase lunch in the cafeteria;last year, the participation rate fell below that on certain days, Glitt said.

The head cooks at each school monitored what menu items students seemed to like and those they didn't, she said. The cooks suggested some of the tweaks to the menu the district has adopted this year.

"We want our cooks to be proud of what their serving the students," Glitt said.

One of the guidelines calls for dark green vegetables to be served more often, she said.

"It made sense last year to serve romaine lettuce, but it turned out that wasn't a type of lettuce kids were used to eating," Glitt said. "They didn't like it."

So this year, instead of romaine lettuce, youngsters are being served broccoli -- and so far, the change seems to be a hit, she said.

"The first week we served steamed broccoli and they really liked it," Glitt said. "(During the second week of school) we served raw broccoli with ranch dip, and our cooks reported it's been a total turnaround from last year.

"I think kids like to eat things with their hands and really like to dip their food in something," she said. "It's a fun way to eat."

In some cases, a popular menu item was served last year, but not every student got to enjoy it.

Kindergarten students are divided into blue and green attendance schedules, and fruit juice was only offered on Mondays and Thursdays, meaning students who attend kindergarten on Tuesdays and Fridays didn't get it as a lunch option.

"This year, we've moved the fruit juice to Tuesdays and Thursdays," Glitt said.

The same issue occurred with the popular breakfast-for-lunch menu of French toast and cheese omelets, she said.

A loosening in the federal guidelines is allowing the district to once again serve cheeseburgers on a regular basis, Glitt said.

And students at all grade levels are enjoying a healthier version of Pizzeria Uno pizza, she said.

With the school year only a couple weeks old, it is too soon to say for sure whether the tweaks to the menu will help increase the number of students buying lunch each day, Glitt said.

"So far, things seem to be going well," she said. "We're always trying to hit the right balance between the nutritional needs of our students and serving them things they will like.

"It's important for them to eat lunch every day to keep their energy and focus up in the classroom."