Out with nachos, in with whole-grain, fruit

Student helper Josh Bishop hands a sandwich made from more healthy choices to freshman Rudi Gallegos at a new lunch line at Central High School.


Free and reduced-price applications

School District 51 will accept free and reduced-price school-meal applications for the 2011–12 school year through Oct. 1.

To qualify children for free breakfast and lunch, parents must fill out an application every year for each of their children. Applications should be sent to Nutrition Services, Mesa County Valley School District 51, 2280 E. Main St., Grand Junction 81501.

A child qualifies for free or reduced school meals based on household income and size. In a home with one parent and one child, for example, the family qualifies for free school meals if the annual household income is $19,123 or less.  Add $4,966 to that income tally for each family member to find the cap that fits any family size. Children qualify for reduced prices in a two-person household if the income in the home is $27,214 or less. Each family member increases that threshold by $7,067.

In District 51, reduced-price students receive free breakfast in any grade and free lunch in preschool through second grade. Otherwise, reduced-price lunches are 40 cents. The federal government reimburses school districts $2.77 for each free lunch and $2.37 for each reduced-price lunch. The reimbursement rate is $1.51 for each free breakfast and $1.21 for each reduced-price breakfast.

School lunch doesn’t taste the way it did when Cooper Strand was in elementary school.

“It tastes healthier than when I was little,” Strand, 14, said after having his first lunch Wednesday as a Central High School student. “It tastes better, too.”

The district added more whole-grain items, salads and sandwiches during Strand’s middle school years to better meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for calories, fat and nutrients in school meals. This year, the district changed or eliminated some lunch recipes to meet new USDA guidelines for sodium.

By December 2012, U.S. school districts will have to keep all but 540 to 640 milligrams of sodium off breakfast plates and restrict sodium content to 1,230 to 1,420 milligrams at lunch. District 51 Food Service Director Dan Sharp decided to get an early start on the requirements this year and kicked two sodium-rich but popular items off the menu: Frito Pie and Macho Nachos. One menu item, turkey gravy, remains above the 2012 sodium guidelines, but all others either meet or outdo the new guidelines.

Sharp said he could change all recipes now to meet the even stricter sodium guidelines mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 for 10 years from now, but he’d rather transition gradually.

“Kids wouldn’t adapt to it that quickly. They’re going to say ‘This tastes like nursing-home food.’ Ten years gives us more time for students to adjust to the foods and the flavors,” Sharp said.

The district is trying to round up more local produce vendors, and 10 of the 20 main dishes in the district’s lunch rotation are made from scratch starting this year. The district drew inspiration from recipes on the USDA’s Team Nutrition website and the website of chef and healthy-school-lunch advocate Jamie Oliver.

Elementary students got to taste test 16 recipes last year, and the eight that were easiest to make and had the most nutrients were added to this year’s menu. One is beef tamale pie, which replaces the Fritos in Frito Pie with a corn- and green chili-filled corn bread.

“I’m sure some kids will go home and say, ‘Mom, that beef tamale pie tasted good, but it wasn’t as good as Frito Pie.’ Yeah, that’s because it has 500 milligrams less sodium,’” Sharp said.

For now, long lunch lines show students such as Strand are adjusting, although his favorite school lunch is still Frito Pie.


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