This year’s theme is “School Lunch – What’s Cooking?”
In honor of the occasion, The Olympian interviewed Alicia Neal, head of North Thurston Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services, to find out about recent changes and trends regarding the district’s meal program.
The district serves about 2,200 breakfasts and 7,500 lunches a day.
Here are excerpts from the conversation.
What are some of the most recent changes to your district’s lunch program?
The United States Department of Agriculture recently updated our nutritional requirements. All of these changes went into effect this school year.
Some of the major changes: We’re putting an emphasis on offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. We’re offering more beans and legumes. We’re working on reducing sodium, and offering more whole grains.
The USDA also set new calorie maximums and minimums based on grade level to ensure that students are getting the appropriate serving sizes. The big thing this year is that students are now required to take a half-cup of fruit or vegetables with each meal.
What are some trends for school lunches?
The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available to kids is huge.
We offer low-fat and nonfat dairy options. We’re not deep-frying anything. Everything is baked.
It’s nice to see that the pendulum is swinging back to food that is less processed and more homemade.
What are the most popular menu items in your district?
The kids love chicken nuggets, and they love our homemade gravy over mashed potatoes. They love the comfort foods.
At the elementary school, we don’t get to make homemade cinnamon rolls very often, but when we can they’re very popular. And of course pizza is popular district-wide.
In secondary schools, some of the newer items such as orange-glazed chicken over steamed brown rice and the penne pasta bar are popular.
This year in the secondary schools we have the “quick stop” – that’s where kids can get fresh deli sandwiches, wraps, salads, fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits. That’s been very popular. The students are really taking from that line.
How much do lunches cost these days?
The prices are $2.75 for elementary students and $3 for high school and middle school students. All of the meals come with an entrée, as many fruits and vegetables as the kids want and a milk choice.
The price is $3.75 for adults.
It is a bargain. It’s funny because some people don’t see it that way, but you couldn’t go to a restaurant and get that kind of value.
Can parents eat lunch with their kids at school?
Yes. You’ll want to check in at the office, and you might need to pay and get a guest pass at the elementary school level. At secondary schools, you can pay in the lunch line.
We encourage (visits) because school meals have changed so much, and it’s a good opportunity for parents to actually see what’s going on.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There are exciting changes going on, not just in North Thurston Public Schools, but for food and nutrition departments around the country.
People are working really hard to serve healthy, nutritious and delicious meals to kids.Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@ theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton theolympian.com/edblog