Some students want Asian food, others sub sandwiches, and all of them want more pizza options. But the Baker County school district wants students to eat healthier foods, and it’s Cathy Golon’s job to see that both groups are happy.
Beginning August 20, when students return from summer break and experience the district’s revamped meals program, she’ll know if she succeeded.
Ms. Golon, the district’s nutrition services director, has been working with a Winter Springs, FL consultant, Sue Tatum of Vinca Marketing & Communications, to implement changes to the program, many of which are mandated by the federal agency responsible for funding about 70 percent of it.
They’ve revised school menus, but also how the food is presented to students, in hopes of making district-provided meals more appetizing and more nutritious. That way, Ms. Golon said, more students will participate in meal plans, which helps “keep them on campus and keep them safe.”
The effort started last spring when Ms. Tatum conducted focus groups and surveys with students at the middle and high schools to uncover their preferences. She was paid with a $4000 grant from the USDA (Department of Agriculture), the same agency that funds most the district’s food services budget.
“We wanted them to share what they wanted for the upcoming school year and we explained how the meal patterns would be changing and how best to combine those,” Ms. Golon explained this week.
For instance, she said, students on school meal plans will be required to have a specified amount of a “red-orange” vegetables, like carrots or sweet potatoes, but they prefer them as is, rather than made into something else, like sweet potato fries or carrot cake.“We’re taking what they said to heart as we’re making the changes,” Ms. Golon said.
The consultant was also behind a dramatic increase in salad consumption at the high school. She recommended relocating the pre-made salads to the front of the lunch line and it apparently worked wonders.
Prior to moving the salads, the cafeteria only made seven salads per day for a student body totaling roughly 1200, which “always concerned us,” noted BCHS Principal Tom Hill during the school board’s last meeting on July 16.
After the move, he said, they began selling dozens of salads.
BCHS art teacher Tiffany Armoreda has joined the makeover, too, by sprucing up the walls of the high school and middle school cafeterias with murals and other designs.
Ms. Armoreda finished a mural at BCHS featuring a hungry Wildcat groping a pizza. She said the project took about a week to complete with help from student volunteers.
The teacher began another mural at the middle school early this week.
Improving the aesthetics in which students dine may help, but the food still needs to taste good.
To that end, Ms. Tatum is dispatching a chef in the Memphis, TN school system to train cooks here in preparing items to be featured on the new school menus.
The school board approved an $1800 contract with Vinca Marketing & Communications last week to pay for the chef, plus travel and per diem expenses incurred by the company.
The new meals will comply with a number of USDA requirements that take effect this year, though more are planned in the future, Ms. Golon said.
Students on district eating plans will have to take a fruit and vegetable with their meals, or pay higher “a la carte” prices for the individual items they take minus the fruit and vegetable.
“It’s in their interest, plus it’s good for them,” she said, adding that while students do not have to take the healthier food, the district must offer it to continue receiving federal funding.
In addition to mandates for more fruit, vegetable and protein consumption, at least half of all grains served with school meals must be whole grains and all milk must be fat free.
“We know that nutrition services play a big role in a student’s educational success and all of our changes are based on student input as well as a focus on healthy eating,” said Ms. Golon.
The marketing consultant will return in the fall to evaluate the program’s changes. That work will be funded through another $4,000 grant from the USDA, Ms. Golon said.
For more information about the coming changes, please contact Nutrition Services at 259-4330.