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Schools debut healthier meals

Posted 9/05/12 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Due to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school hot lunch programs are now required by federal law to provide more fresh, healthy, low-fat options for school children.
Watford City Elementary and Watford City High School Head Cooks Bonnie DeHaven and Laura Norton, have known about these regulations, and for the past year they have done their best to comply in the midst of rapidly growing student populations and hot lunch users.
According to the USDA’s website, this is the first time in 30 years that they have been able to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition of millions of children.
“They are trying to get the calories down and push healthy foods for the children,” states Bonnie DeHaven, Watford City Elementary School head cook.
DeHaven states she has to serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“For breakfast, we are mandated to put a whole cup of fruit on the student’s plate. And for lunch, the students must have either 3/4 of a cup of vegetables or 1/2 cup of fruit,” DeHaven states.
Additionally, at least half of the grains served in the school cafeteria must be whole grain and all of the milk given to the children has to be one percent or fat-free. DeHaven is also required to serve one bean protein a week.
Norton, head cook for the Watford City High School, has also been dealing with adjustments both to her menu and student order size.
“They are trying to reduce calories and sodium intake for the students,” states Norton. “By the 2014-2015 school year, federal law wants sodium to be lower than 1,420 mg and by the 2022-2023 school year, they want it below 740 mg.”
That is quite an adjustment for DeHaven and Norton when it comes to changing what they order and changing the ingredients they use in recipes.
What has also been an adjustment for Norton, on top of getting used to a new way to order and prepare food, is having to adjust the amounts of food ordered and prepared for a lot more hungry students.
“We have the addition of 70 sixth graders to serve in the high school lunchroom this year. Plus, we have a lot more new students in the high school,” Norton states. “I am still trying to figure out how much to order and how much to prepare.”
This past Wednesday was Norton’s tallest order in a long time with 350 students buying hot lunch.
“We have never had to feed 350 students at the high school as long as I’ve been here,” states Norton. “I think the most students that we fed on any single day last year was around 250.”
DeHaven also states that ordering more fruits, vegetables and whole grains costs the district’s food service more money. But because of state funding, the increased costs really don’t filter down to students.
“As long as we comply with federal guidelines, we get money for each student that buys a school meal,” states DeHaven. “So we can still keep our meal prices low.”
School breakfasts cost $1 for students and $1.50 for adults. The lunch prices are $2.10 for students and $2.50 for adults.
DeHaven and Norton are also receiving additional help in the kitchen, due to higher enrollment numbers.
“During the last boom, we were able to have four people working in the kitchen. And I’m thankful the school board granted us the ability to do that again,” DeHaven states.