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What does future hold for French fries in school cafeteria?

Three District 833 School Board members say they don't want a vocal minority to decide for the majority of parents who don't mind that Woodbury High School serves deep-fried French fries three days a week.

French fryers were removed from Cottage Grove Middle School and Lake Middle School last year, and Woodbury High School was slated to discontinue French fries next year, according to district Nutrition Services Director Barb Osthus, who submitted next year's budget and plans for school lunches to the board at the May 6 workshop meeting.

Cafeterias at Park and East Ridge high schools and Woodbury and Oltman middle schools don't have deep fryers.

"I know a lot of unhappy people about French fries," said Board Chair Leslee Boyd. "We hear from people who want them."

Boyd said kids are unlikely to tell nutrition services that they want French fries.

Osthus said there are opportunities to do so at schools and on the service's Web site.

Board Member Jim Gelbmann said better oils could be used. His daughter was looking forward to having French fries when she gets to high school.

Osthus said the district was using the best oil with no trans-fats. "If there were going to be French fries," she said, "I wanted them to be the best available."

She said nutrition services was under a lot of pressure to get rid of deep-fried French fries, adding that she planned to sell the fryers this summer.

Boyd said it's frustrating that the district is only responding to a few parents who don't want French fries.

Board Member Ron Kath said he doesn't want a small group of parents dictating to others.

Gelbmann asked for a workshop meeting to discuss bringing back French fries, but Superintendent Mark Porter said he would meet with Osthus and discuss a recommendation.

It isn't just some parents who don't want schools to serve French fries, he said. The district is also under pressure from federal and Washington County health officials who want unhealthy foods removed from school lunches.

For the past six years, Osthus said, students have accepted eating baked, instead of fried, potato chips.

Board Member Tracy Brunnette said she appreciates that fryers are being removed. "Kids have plenty of opportunities for French fries," she said.

Other district food offerings were also discussed.

Gelbmann said his family has switched from beef to eating buffalo. "I like it," he said.

Osthus said the district receives $10,000 to $13,000 worth of ground beef as a federal commodity. If the government switched to buffalo, nutrition services would try it, she said.

This year, nutrition services offered Farmer's Market Fridays in the district's four middle schools. Food offered had less than 26 percent of calories from fat, less total calories from saturated fat, less than 700 milligrams of salt with no breaded products served and the freshest products available included.

Lunch participation on Friday plunged by 59 percent, she said, so the program won't be offered next year.

Her department, however, will continue to limit a la carte items so kids will opt for regular lunch or soup, sandwich and salad items.

Offering more healthful food within the regular lunch will continue, she said, and so will the Healthy Food of the Month program. Students have responded positively to eating items such as red potatoes, rice mixes, squash and corn-on-the-cob, she said.

Next year, beans, melons and peppers, in addition to more lentils, will be included to incorporate more locally grown food.

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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