When most people think of school lunch they think of greasy chicken nuggets and grumpy lunch ladies. Boise School’s Food and Nutrition Services Department (for whom I work during the school year) is working to change this perception by forsaking unhealthy deep-fried and par-fried foods and implementing the Farm to School program.
Selected as one of five Idaho school districts for the pilot program, Food and Nutrition Services will strive to serve one locally grown or locally produced item on the school lunch menu every day from now through September. The district’s 25,000 students, as well as school staff and parents, can look forward to eating organic hand-picked grapes from Emmett, ripe watermelons from Hermiston, Wash., and orchard fruits like apples and pears from Caldwell.
As the weather cools and the growing season tapers off, the goal will be to serve at least one locally produced item each week. Trout products in the form of square patties and fish-shaped nuggets will come from Clear Springs Foods, a fish farming operation and processing plant in Hagerman. Tortillas will arrive from Fresca Mexican Foods in Boise. Meadow Gold Dairy, which supplies all 47 school sites with milk, sour cream, cream cheese and yogurt, collects its milk from dairy farms that are within our region. And, of course, the Idaho potato will make regular appearances on the lunch menu.
At the helm of this undertaking is Peggy Bodnar, R.D., L.D., supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services for the Boise School District. Last year, Bodnar was recognized as the Emerging Dietitian of the Year in the State of Idaho by the American Dietetics Association.
“We don’t use deep-fat fryers at any of our schools,” she says.
In addition to the Farm to School program, Bodnar is committed to using more whole grains in the bread products served to students and staff.
“Papa Murphy’s pizza developed a whole wheat crust just for us,” she says of the pizza that will be served district-wide during this school year. The custom crust recipe uses 51 percent whole wheat flour and 49 percent white flour, a nutritional improvement over the traditional all-white flour pizza crust. Whole wheat pastas and bread sticks, made using at least 50 percent whole wheat flour in the recipe, are being served as well.
As for the grumpy lunch ladies, most of them are happy (like me) to be serving students foods that are more wholesome and nutritious.
“Whole grains are important for a child’s digestive tract,” says Valerie Steele, kitchen assistant at Collister Elementary School. The growing use of whole grains in Boise’s school lunches goes hand-in-hand with the Farm to School program to feed meals that are more nourishing to local school children.