News, media, and social networking, over the past several years, have been heavily covering the topic of school lunches and what we are feeding our youth. Per federal regulations, and part of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s ’Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’ initiative, school lunches have taken a significant turn from what they were ten plus years ago. As was previously made public, our school district decided to veer away from the Federal Lunch Program and implement their own Program. “[We had a] Loss of local control. It [Federal Lunch Program] was very restrictive and not kid friendly or healthy. The amount of paperwork and other restrictions were just too much” says Stuart Larson, Niobrara County School District (NCSD) Business Manager, and NCSD kitchen head, Judy Lucas. Feedback from parents, students, and teachers have been positive. “We kept several of the meals that the students like and made them better” Larson states. The Niobrara County community is highly active with students participating in sports, clubs, and many of them working on ranches or other jobs in conjunction with an eight-hour school day, so, one of the favorite parts about the new program is, “larger amounts of food is being prepared because of the ability to serve seconds” Larson discloses. Another plus with the new program is that students get more of a say in what they are eating, “We have many requests from students for certain items. The menu is changed for different seasons and is planned as a team in the kitchen” says Larson. Even with student input on meals and more options now available, ingredients are still watched for allergy purposes, “There are only a few students with specific allergies, so that is about the same” Larson mentions in regards to prep. But allergies aren’t the only things watched for in the ingredients. If you have Facebook and are a part of the Lusk Barter Sell, you may have noticed a thank you or two to families that have donated some kind of beef for the lunch program. As the donations are greatly appreciated, strict guidelines are still implemented in preparing the food, “The beef has to be processed in a USDA certified facility, and right now that is the only outside food that we accept” Larson states, adding, “We are also using produce from the high tunnels”. As of right now, in the first year, there has been no significant change in the amount of students that participate in the school lunches but according to Larson, “More money is being collected in all categories: LEMS students, high school students and adults” adding that, “The District has always had to subsidize the lunch program financially. We are still doing this at the same or slightly lower level”. Per Larson, in order to make the change from the Federal Lunch program to the District’s own program, there was some initial investigating on how different school districts (that had also left the Federal Program) were running their lunch programs and also discussion with the school board. As for whether or not they intend to keep the new program running, Larson assures they do, “We are constantly monitoring data from the lunch program, and will make necessary adjustments when appropriate. There may be increased produce from the high tunnels in the future, but very few other changes”. If you would like to make a beef donation please contact the school for more information.
The generosity continues with recent beef donations from Paul and Lucy Luker, the Werner family and Bob and Polly Johnson.
A special thank you to Donna Hanson for coordinating this vital program. Definately a proud Niobrara moment.