School meals shouldn't be taken for granted
School meals are something easy to take for granted, without considering the immense effort that goes into the feeding of our students.
Recently visiting with Paul Klein, director of Child Nutrition, shed new light on the enormity of the task of daily feeding our children breakfast and lunch.
While the structure of the food services framework has been relatively consistent over the years, actual work environments and the requirements with which schools must comply has changed dramatically. Also, this is the first year in the past several that our school food services staff have been able to prepare meals on-site for students without having to transport additional meals to other school sites, due to construction and/or remodeling. The only transporting of food now is that of La Casita Elementary’s kitchen preparing and transporting meals to our students at Lincoln-Jackson Family Center; Barry Elementary for Los Niños next door; and Clovis High School preparing/transporting meals for Choices students (our alternative high school).
Klein described the status of our food services for this year. A relatively new federal program— “community option” — is a program originally tested in seven states — which is now offered to all states. While not all states have opted to participate in the program, New Mexico has. This program allows for provision of school meals for a wider spectrum of student demographics. This means that this year all but five of our schools qualify to receive free breakfast and lunch for all students at the school site (http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/child-nutrition-programs). As Klein stated, “We care about our kids, and through this program, more of our families and kids could benefit.” This program will be in effect for the next four years, before having to be re-evaluated.
Other changes that have occurred are nutritional guidelines and requirements, all for the better. For example, whole grain requirements have increased; food sodium content decreased; increases of fresh fruit offered, and so forth. The overall calorie content of foods offered has decreased, as well, in consideration of childhood obesity. These requirements and restrictions must be carefully monitored for compliance. This not only makes food preparation challenging for school districts, but the supplying of required raw ingredients by manufacturers and vendors as well.
“We always try to be proactive in making improvements in response to all nutritional needs,” Klein continued. For example, the district has just installed the first “water station” at Clovis High School. The water station resembles the standard water fountain in appearance, but the water is filtered, rather than just cooled tap water. Also the water station is designed to accommodate refilling water bottles for students to encourage more hydrating for students.
Consider that Klein, closely supported by Sharon Garcia and Doris Bolton (executive assistant and bookkeeper, respectively) along with his school teams totaling about sixty-five, serve anywhere between 10,000 and 12,000 meals daily. Not only is it impossible to take school meals for granted, it’s something of a miracle that so many kids get fed tasty, nutritious meals each day.
Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at [email protected]