Weather Forecast


District 833 schools: Have some fruit and vegetables

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new rules for school lunches this year including lowering sodium, fewer calories and required produce, it was behind the local curve.

School District 833 Nutrition Services has made many changes in the past five years to ensure students are getting more healthful food.

It eliminated high-fructose fruit drinks from schools and closed down deep fryers at middle schools. Kids no longer get pizza once a week in elementary schools and when they do, it has reduced-fat cheese and multi-grain crusts.

The new rule that students must take at least one fruit or vegetable with their lunches is going over well with kids in lower grades, according to Cottage Grove Elementary School food workers. By the end of the first week, students didn't have to be reminded. Older students asked why the change but are complying.

To ramp up interest in fruit and vegetables, school cooks learned to make roasted vegetables. Heating them in ovens brings out natural sugars, according to Kathy Grafsgaard, new nutrition services director.

Last year, kids responded well to baked squash, she said, so it was served throughout the fall until it was no longer available.

Roasted butternut squash was served last week and was bought locally as part of the Farm to School program. Research shows kids are more interested in eating food when they know where is comes from,

This fall, Nutrition Services is buying apples from Whistling Well Farm in Denmark Township. It's also buying locally grown green beans, beets and melons.

Buying local also means money stays in the community, Grafsgaard said.

Thirty years ago, Nutrition Services made everything it served from scratch including bread, but over the years, parents wanted more processed food their children were familiar with such as chicken nuggets.

But the trend is reversing and more foods are being made from scratch to reduce fat and sodium

"Students like it," Grafsgaard said. "They like the smells of vegetables roasting before lunch."

A homemade chicken soup is being featured this year and Nutrition Services is working with a chef to develop new sauces and dressings. "They have fewer ingredients and are wholesome and fresh. "Most of all, they taste great," she said.

Nutrition Services also intends to cut the use of disposable material used in serving lunches by 20 percent.

In elementary schools, plastic salad containers are no longer being used. Salads are being served in paper boats or put directly on lunch trays, Grafsgaard said.

Additional ways of eliminating products that go into the waste stream and increasing recycling are being considered, she said.

First-grader Grace Munger, whose favorite lunch is chicken nuggets, said she likes strawberries and grapes. She also eats green beans but likes peas better.

Some students are reluctant to take a fruit or vegetable they haven't seen before. First-grader Sam Denham said he hasn't seen broccoli yet because "I'm only 6 years old."

The favorite lunch of all students in the past was pizza but this year's first-graders disagree. Most, including Taylor Parell and Raushni Bamrah, said they like tacos best.

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.
(651) 459-7600