Schools strive to offer healthful food that students like

Capital Press
October 5, 2016

By Carol Ryan Dumas

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Most students in the Twin Falls School District depend on the National School Lunch Program to deliver healthful, satisfying meals — and the district takes that responsibility seriously.

Three years ago, the district debuted its revamped school nutrition program with the higher national standards for child nutrition. It continues to focus on healthful foods that children will eat, said Lori Rieth, the district food service supervisor.

“We believe nutrition plays a crucial role in physical and academic achievement,” she said, kicking off an advance celebration of National School Lunch week at Pillar Falls Elementary School on Monday.

The event included about 100 fifth-graders who were thrilled with the extra-curricular activity complete with dairy snacks from United Dairymen of Idaho, Chobani and Glanbia Nutritionals.

The celebration also included a visit from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, USDA Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza and Idaho Dairy Council nutrition consultant April Bruns.

With an enrollment of 9,900 in 16 schools, the district serves 6,200 free or reduced-cost lunches a day through the National School Lunch Program, 2,550 breakfasts through the School Breakfast Program and 2,000 lunches through the Summer Food Service Program, Rieth said.

It’s important to provide healthful meals the students like, she said.

The district surveys the children every year and gets lot of feedback on such things as their favorite and least-favorite foods and school offerings and where they like to eat around town.

“We do listen. We try to incorporate what we hear,” she said.

Children’s tastes vary, but the district changes recipes and offerings if it sees trends in the feedback. It’s added flavor through herbs to make up for less salt in dishes and has gotten creative with fruit to appeal to children’s desire for more deserts, she said.

“The School Lunch Program is a long-term program because we learned a long time ago that young people learn a lot better and do a lot better if they’re well-fed,” Crapo said.

Congress is working to reauthorize and strengthen the program, and that’s good for children and Idaho, which produces much of the food used in the program, he said.

“A tremendous amount of food is grown, prepared and delivered for the National School Program right here,” he said.

That provides critical nutrition to school children and supports the community, jobs and the economy, he said.

Mendoza, of the USDA, said the program focuses on healthful meals with more fruit and vegetables, whole grains and dairy and encourages local sourcing.

His favorite part of his job with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is visiting schools to see what children need and what they like.

Bruns engaged the fifth-graders in a lively Q&A on fueling their bodies with good nutrition, including three servings of dairy a day, to help them learn and play and the importance of daily exercise.

Children spend 2,000 hours at school during the school year, so good nutrition and active play time has to be a part of the school environment, she said.