New menu, prices on tap for schoolsThe students of Lake Superior Elementary School have developed eating habits that would make Popeye proud. Thanks to a federal grant and creativity of the food service staff, the youngsters have a craving for spinach.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The students of Lake Superior Elementary School have developed eating habits that would make Popeye proud. Thanks to a federal grant and creativity of the food service staff, the youngsters have a craving for spinach.
“By putting it in the salad, they’ll actually dig it out,” said Gerri Anderson, a cook at the Superior elementary school. “They love it.”
Lake Superior Elementary School received a $9,527 grant this year through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The grant money, which averages out to more than $50 per child, provides students with fresh fruit or vegetable snacks during the school day.
Through the program, students at Lake Superior Elementary School were introduced to a new lineup of fruits and vegetables. One of the more exotic items offered was jicama, a root vegetable that looks like a cross between a potato and a turnip. Students also sampled spinach, brussel sprouts, pomegranate seeds and mangos.
Baby spinach proved to be the biggest hit.
“The kids look at it and they say, ‘Oh, we have spinach today!’” said Audrey Welch, who also works in the Lake Superior Elementary kitchen.
The food service staff tried multiple variations before discovering the winning combination for spinach. If the spinach was cooked in any way, Anderson said, the students turned up their noses. When served fresh in a salad or stashed away in a spinach dip, however, the students came back asking for more.
The Lake Superior students are ahead of the game with their newfound love of leafy greens, but the rest of Superior’s students also will be introduced to a wider variety of vegetables beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
Spinach, kale and squash could all become mainstays at the lunch table as the Superior school district rolls out its new menu for the 2012-13 school year to comply with the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which goes into effect July 1.
The act requires schools to serve students more fresh fruits and vegetables, and regulates what types of vegetables must be served.
“Even though in the past we’ve always served vegetables, now it’s real specific,” said Jeanne Hopkins, food services director for the Superior school district. Schools must now offer a dark green, leafy vegetable every week and a cup and a half of a dark orange or red vegetable.
“We have to offer it, and every lunch tray that passes by a cashier — meaning the last point before they walk away — has to have a half cup of fruit or a half cup of vegetable on it,” Hopkins said.
Just because kids take the food doesn’t mean they’ll eat it, but Hopkins said she isn’t too concerned about waste. The Superior school district has already found modest success this year in introducing new foods to its students.
“We knew this was coming, so on our menu, we would have a sample day every month where we would be sampling kale or sampling star fruit — getting the kids used to, yeah this is what we do at school, we try new fruits and vegetables,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know what it was, but every school reports a lot of success with that.”
From what Welch has seen, presentation is vital when coaxing students to try new foods or to choose healthy snacks.
Celery, for example, goes untouched in the lunch line when it is chopped up or diced before serving. Celery served whole, on the other hand, is gobbled up.
“They pretend they’re Bugs Bunny eating their celery stick,” Welch said.
Patience is another key for the food service workers. Hopkins said studies have shown children need to try a new food about 17 times before they develop a taste for it.
Even the students at Lake Superior Elementary School didn’t learn to appreciate new foods faster after one taste. Anderson said it usually still took a few rotations through the menu before kids were requesting new vegetables.
Brussel sprouts are one success story. At first, Anderson said, students were hesitant to try the vegetables, which are a good source of vitamins K and C. Some had never even seen a brussel sprout before.
After a few appearances on the menu, however, students began to ask Anderson when they’d be getting the “little cabbages” again.
“It’s just amazing,” Anderson said. “You don’t know what they’re going to like.”
The Superior school district will be changing its meal prices for 2012-13 to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
One provision of the act requires schools to increase paid lunches prices if the current prices fall below the average difference between free meal reimbursement and paid meal reimbursement. The National School Lunch Program reimburses schools 26 cents per student for paid lunches and $2.77 for free lunches.
Schools charging less than $2.51 for lunches must contribute non-federal funds to make up the difference or gradually increase their prices until they meet the requirement.
“The government is asking us to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, and that will cost a little bit more, so that does help justify a price increase,” Hopkins said.
At the younger grade levels in the Superior school district, the price of a student lunch would increase 10 cents, to $1.70 for elementary school students and $2.10 for middle school students.
The cost of lunch at the high school would go from $2 to $2.40 for students and from $2.75 to $3 for adults.
Breakfast would remain free for all students, but the price of an adult breakfast would increase from $1.75 to $1.90. Hopkins said she’d also recommend that the price of milk remain at 50 cents.
The Superior School Board will vote on the proposed meal price changes at its June meeting.