The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 28, 2012

Healthier school lunches: And we're not talking brussels sprouts

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Enid school lunches are healthier than ever, thanks to changes spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and first set in motion a year ago at Hayes Elementary School.

The menu is a better balance than ever, and includes more fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, fewer calories and no saturated fats, said Gayle Leader, food safety coordinator for Enid Public Schools.

Kelly Craig, director of child nutrition for EPS, said when Hayes last year adopted the Healthier U.S. School Challenge, it gave the nutrition service a trial run in creating menus that fit the new guidelines. The nutrition service learned from that pilot program — testing, trying and figuring out what worked.

Summer school also was a time of experimenting and figuring out what worked, Craig said. With fewer children’s lunches to prepare, closer attention could be paid to what was being eaten and what was not.

They paid attention to which menu items the kids at Hayes ate well — and which items they did not.

“With this meal pattern, we have to reduce the calories and the saturated fat, also,” Leader said.

For example, spaghetti still is on the menu, but garlic bread no longer comes with it. All French fries are baked. Vegetables are categorized as “dark green,” “starchy,” “red and orange,” “beans” and “other.”

“They really understood they want healthy nutrition, but they want it to be something kids will eat,” said Amber Fitzgerald.

The central kitchen prepares meals for all the elementary schools as well as Longfellow Middle School, while that building is under renovation. That’s about 4,100 lunches per day.

Students at McKinley Elementary School Friday gave the new menu mixed reviews.

Second-grader Jaidenn Lambert, daughter of Jennifer and Jack Lambert, said her favorite is strawberries. Jaidenn had lunch Friday in Principal Kay Kiner’s office as a good citizenship reward.

Fourth-grader Madison Hansel, daughter of Dwight and Constance Hansel, also ate with the principal Friday. The new lunches are a hit with Madison because she likes fruit and pickles. Her favorite menu item, though, is the stew.

Samoira Villalpando, daughter of Veronica Perez and Jose Villalpando, said she sometimes gets to eat school lunches her mother helped make. Her mother works at AdvancePierre Foods.

“Sometimes when my mom picks me up from school, she has a tray of the lunch that we had,” Samoira said.

Fifth-grader Ethan Roberts sometimes eats school lunch and sometimes brings lunch from home. It depends on what’s on the menu, Ethan said.

“I see that the lunches are healthier foods,” Ethan said. “I don’t really see the kids eat them. I think their food is pretty good. I really have not noticed any difference.”

Ethan is the son of Tiffany Fry and Will Roberts.

His classmate, Nathan Cunningham, said he always eats school lunch. Nathan said he’s noticed the chocolate cake tastes sweeter than it did last year, and he doesn’t miss the cinnamon rolls because last year he didn’t like them anyway.

But getting baked fries instead of fried scores points with Nathan.

“Those are wonderful,” Nathan said. “I’ve always liked the baked fries anyway.”

Nathan said he’s glad his favorite menu item is just the same.

“Their sweet-and-sour meatballs haven’t changed,” Nathan said. “I love them.”

Nathan is the son of Margaret Rains and Andrew Cunningham.

Katie Donaldson, daughter of David and Christina Donaldson, said she likes the new lunches better.

“They just taste better,” Katie said.

Kiah Edwards, daughter of Lorri and Troy Edwards, agrees.

The fifth-grader admits she’s a choosy eater, and the foods she wants are the fresh vegetables and fruits she’s being offered this year. Last year, she might have gotten only two carrot sticks, but this year she gets more of them. She said she also got cucumber slices and fresh plums this year.

“I don’t really eat the other stuff, I just eat the vegetables,” Kiah said.

She’s noticed dessert has been served only twice so far this year, and the portion size was smaller.

“I think it’s so much better what they’re doing this year than what they did last year,” Kiah said.

Hayes Elementary’s participation in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge involved more than menu changes. It also involved offering opportunities for physical activity so their lives are healthier overall.

School leaders got a letter dated June 19 from first lady Michelle Obama, notifying them they are a winner of a Gold Award in the national challenge.