School board gets Cheney schools nutrition update
Nutrition in Cheney School District schools has changed drastically over the past five years, something Nutrition Services Director Brian Levy detailed for the district's board of directors at their April 30 meeting.
The district began moving away from processed commodity based meals in fall 2011, installing kitchens and staff training to implement scratch-cooking methods at all eight schools, thanks to a grant from Empire Health Foundation. Helped by a $60,000 Farm to School grant in 2012-2013, they began educating students on the types and value of fresh fruits and vegetables and incorporated these into the daily meal plans.
"We only serve fresh fruits in the salad bars now," Levy said. "We do not do canned or any fruits like that."
The district is in the process of applying for a Farm to School implementation grant for the coming year, hoping to also add in more local, fresh proteins to students' diets. Levy highlighted several moves they have taken to increase efficiencies and find savings in the food budget.
In moving virtually all student support services to the former U.S. Air Force communications site on Needham Hill, the district purchased a new 14,000 cubic foot walk-in freezer, something Levy said saves about $500 a month on storage costs. They have instituted new inventory and an online ordering systems, leading to being able to order food twice a week and thereby keep less inventory on hand.
Levy said they have partnered with 17 other area school districts in a co-op, which has increased the buying power for all those involved and helped with contract price negotiations. They also instituted a full, two-year financial analysis of the program at the urging of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, enabling the district to receive an additional 6 cents per student reimbursable lunch through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
"We've been getting that assistance since October of last year," Levy said, adding that should lead to an additional $20,000 a year in savings.
The changes taken by the district allows it to more easily meet new standards for meal patterns. Other districts still using processed foods must rely on the food manufacturer to make changes following those same new standards.
Nutrition services currently have 25 employees among the district's eight schools, serving 808 free or reduce-priced breakfasts and 1,765 free or reduced lunches. The district's program has been the subject of several media stories, and recently made some national headlines with results from a two-year study indicating a drop in the percentage of middle school students classified as overweight and/or obese. The study also revealed a reduction in mean BMI - body mass index - from 68.1 percent to 66.2 percent.
Cheney School District wellness coordinator Laura Martin told the school board they had also been having success incorporating more natural foods into fundraising efforts by school support groups. Natural foods have replaced candy and other snacks in school vending machines, but first not after doing taste tests and conducting surveys of students to find out what they liked.
"We know if we're putting birdseed in the vending machines the kids aren't going to eat it," Martin said. "We wanted to put items in that kids liked, and also items kids will identify with outside school and maybe pick up a bag."
Martin said they have also worked with local PTO and PTA groups on how they can participate in the nutrition program, and have met with success. They've given marketing tutorials to DECA stores, worked with parents on healthier ides for classroom parties and encouraged teachers to devise other ways of giving rewards for good class work other than candy.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.