Duluth School Lunches Aim to Meet New Standards

By KBJR News 1

February 13, 2012 Updated Feb 13, 2012 at 1:09 PM CDT

This July, school cafeterias across the country will be federally required to more than double their fruit and vegetable offerings, provide at least 50% of their carbohydrates in whole wheat, and serve only skim or one percent milk. By 2014, those standards will tighten even further.

Here in the Twin Ports, schools have been preparing for these changes.

The kids come hungry.

Filing into the cafeteria hoping to find their favorite foods.

Kids in the cafeteria on this day name pizza and pancakes as some of their favorite offerings. But they seem to be digging into the vegetable and fruit offerings as well.

The kitchen staff at the new Piedmont Elementary in Duluth are trying to dish out favorites while minding the nutrition needs of these growing minds and bodies.

"We have really great sales people because sometimes you have children come up and say 'ew I don't think I like that,'" says the Director of Child Nutrition for the Duluth School District Pam Bowe.

Duluth Public Schools have been preparing for stricter, healthier national mandates on school lunches.

"We serve fresh fruits and vegetables every day and that is really in the forefront of the new regulations."

When they started cutting out sugars and fat and offering more fresh veggies and whole grains two years ago, there was resistance at first.

"They told me they were going to go home and tell their moms and then their moms were going to tell my boss and I was going to be in big trouble," says the kitchen manager at Piedmont Wendy Wakefield.

But as the children were exposed to more of these healthy foods, they began to dig in.

Which makes sense, according to Essentia Health Dietitian Lisa Spooner. She says it takes a child seeing a vegetable over 15 times for them to feel comfortable with it.

"We know that repetition of seeing and being around fruits and vegetables and whole grains and milk, that will hopefully help them master those foods and, down the road, they will like those in the future," she says.

One of the biggest things helping this school encourage healthy eating is the new appliances in the new facilities.

"We can do a lot more variety. I'm not spending a lot of time on one thing. It could go so fast, I could do three or four things and have it all ready," says Wakefield.

And variety is important when you're trying to get kids to eat their vegetables.

"If I have a bunch of things out there they are sure to like something."

Duluth's menu has come a long way in the efforts to offer healthier alternatives.

One day, the menu calls for a hot turkey sandwich, oven baked sweet potatoes, salad, and mixed fruit. On another, a grilled chicken wrap with Mexican brown rice, a fruit cup and pineapple. Not to mention the fresh fruit and vegetable bar open daily.

But there's always room for improvement.

"We are always looking to improve and we really want to take a look at our menu and make sure that come July we are at the 51% mark for whole grains and that we're offering a variety of fruits and veggies," says Bowe.

The Duluth Public School District has also put an emphasis on buying locally produced, American grown.

Click here to see the other story in this series, looking into Superior School lunches.

Courtney Godfrey
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