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District 833 aims to create student interest in healthy foods

April was "asparagus month" in School District 833 lunchrooms - really.

The Nutrition Services department served the green spears topped with parmesan cheese in an effort to increase student interest in eating more fruits and vegetables.

Conner Nelson, Grey Cloud Elementary School third-grader, liked the asparagus but his classmate, Robyn Witikko, wrinkling up her nose, said she didn't like it.

Foods of the month are not new to the district but this year nutrition services stepped it up with whole grains and vegetables such as asparagus, quinoa and roasted root vegetables that included carrots, beets, squash and parsnips.

Student reactions were mixed, according to Barb Osthus, nutrition services director, and Kathy Grafsgaard, assistant director, but, in general, high school students are more open to trying new foods than those in middle school. Elementary-age kids tend to like foods they have seen before.

October was "squash month" and, flavored with cinnamon, the gourd was a success at the high schools. Students asked for it to stay on the menu and the schools kept it there for as long as there was a local supply, Grafsgaard said in an interview.

Offering more fresh food is the trend in food service in recent years because of national concern about childhood obesity and lowering salt and fat in school lunches, according to Grafsgaard and Osthus, who is retiring in June after 34 years in the district.

Food 'full circle'

The district made all of the food from scratch when Osthus came to the district. Kids had been eating freshly made bread, casseroles and creamed hamburger over mashed potatoes for a long time. But parents asked for more prepared food to be served such as chicken nuggets and pizza that kids were getting at home.

"We've come full circle," Osthus said and parents, and students, are now asking for more fresh food.

New school lunch guidelines emphasize kids eating more fruits and vegetables as well. Next year, for the first time, secondary lunches will have a maximum number of calories, Osthus said, and all elementary school students will be required to take a half-cup of fruits or vegetables with every school lunch.

But winning customer acceptance is harder than it looks. It's not enough to offer more healthful food; kids have to like it.

Food workers were very receptive to learning how to make roasted vegetables and other new foods, Grafsgaard said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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