ELYRIA — It’s lunch time at Elyria High School and staffers plating up subs, burritos and wraps are also eyeing each student’s tray for something else the federal government is now requiring — a serving of fruits or vegetables.
That’s why the first stop on the food line is the offer bar, which this past Monday featured mixed-greens salad, applesauce, celery sticks and raw cauliflower florets. By now, students know to grab a helping of one or all of the fruits and vegetables being offered as Elyria Schools and every other district in the country works to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
Parents may not know exactly what the federal act is all about, aside from their child telling them after-school stories of eating sweet potato french fries, but school officials are well schooled on what the federal government wants from school lunch programs.
Overall, the plan is to increase fruits and vegetables, reduce proteins and starches, and replace enriched grains with whole-grain rich products.
“We knew it was coming. It came into fruition in 2010, so we started taking steps toward this two years ago,” said Scott Teaman, food services director with Sodexo, the district’s contracted food provider. “We know kids will eat fruits. The hard part is to get them to eat vegetables. I don’t know how many kids willingly eat their vegetables, but we are finding out more will when they find out how good some of them will be.”
The long-range goal of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is to lessen the epidemic of childhood obesity in the country. But some say it merely attacks a small arena of a child’s life that can be easily controlled — schools that do not fulfill federal requirements run the risk of losing federal funding for their food program.
“We are subject to all these health mandates for six hours a day,” Teaman said. “We are responsible for what they eat, but then they go home and eat whatever they want.”
Still, Teaman said school officials are succeeding because they see the mandates as an opportunity to have fun with students. Teaman, a professional chef who is in his first year in Elyria, has a culinary background that includes stints at Kenston School as well as at University Hospital. He sees feeding the Elyria student population — roughly 72 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch — as a fun game where the objective is to get the best product into students as possible while teaching them how to duplicate healthy eating efforts at home.
There is the Lucky Tray program in the elementary schools where a sticker is placed on the bottom of a tray and the student who gets it wins a fun nutrition-related prize; Breakfast with the Principal for 10 kids who are doing outstanding work; Future Chef competitions where elementary students can design their own healthy subs; and a fun-filled sub-building party where high school kids will attempt to construct a massive sub sandwich in the shape of a letter E.
“I think I was at Franklin Elementary, and this little guy said, ‘I like cucumbers. I can eat them every day or I can eat a grape that tastes like a tomato.’ So there are moments when we get signs that we are winning and they are eating,” Teaman said.
Most of the menus students see are the product of Yvonne Shanks, chef manager. She uses a host of tried-and-true recipes that are tweaked based on student response. Sometimes she knocks it out of the park like when she serves up a pasta bar. Other times, students let her know it’s best to go back to the drawing board.
“We had these wonderful fish nuggets that had this moist piece of white fish inside. I thought they were great,” Shanks said. “But the kids didn’t like them at all.”
Years ago, veteran food service worker Becky Scheutzow said, lunch was a single option.
On Monday, Scheutzow stood behind a counter making custom-order sub sandwiches for students. The small whole-grain sub buns were from Schwebel’s and specially made for school lunch programs after months of tweaking to ensure the quality matched federal guidelines.
“Before, either they ate it or they didn’t, but this way is a lot better,” she said. “They are eating healthier.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.