Courier Staff Writer
Kids will actually eat food that’s good for them. Davis County Elementary School kids and staff decided they were going to prove that to everyone.
“We used to use three or four cases of fruit,” said head cook and kitchen manager Julie Glosser. “Now we serve eight or nine cases.”
On Monday, in a schoolwide assembly, Davis County Elementary was presented a Gold Medal through the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge, a national certification initiative for schools in the National School Lunch Program.
Only three schools in Iowa earned gold — out of more than 1,000 buildings in the lunch program statewide. Davis County created a healthy school environment with strict requirements for meals, nutrition education and physical activity.
“The award is great, but the bottom line is we have more kids eating and being healthy,” said Davis County Superintendent Dan Maeder.
He said support services director Dan Roberts encouraged participation in the program.
Roberts said he and his staff already encouraged students to eat fresh fruits and vegetables by serving them at school. But in order to compete for the prize, the USDA and Iowa DOE required documentation of the efforts.
“How many vegetables, how much salt, physical activity,” listed Stephanie Hawkins, secretary of support services. She coordinated the record keeping and told staff what had to be done in order to compete successfully.
The cooks received new equipment, new requirements, even all new recipes.
“They never balked at anything we asked them to do,” Hawkins said.
Maeder and Roberts credited a lot of people with getting the effort going, but in the end, all of them pointed toward “the lunch ladies” as the force that carried the school forward.
Ann Feilmann, chief of the Iowa Department of Education’s Bureau of Nutrition and Health Services handed out medals Monday. She was assisted by several dignitaries, including one who didn’t speak, USDA mascot Power Panther.
Glosser, who one official referred to as “the head chef,” said she and her cooks treat the students as if they were their own children. In some cases, they are.
“We get a lot of hugs,” said one cook.
And a lot of kids eating the nutritious lunch. Which was important, because another of the gold medal requirements stated more 70 percent of students must eat hot lunch.
Asked what kind of marketing they tried to convince kids to start eating hot lunch, Principal Jennifer Donels said there was no big push to put up posters, or to convince parents to purchase the school lunch.
Maeder said it was done by offering good, healthy food. Even though that higher quality food cost a little more, he said, it was worth it: Participation is up over 70 percent in the lunch room.
Glosser said children can serve themselves fruit, which they seem to enjoy doing. And they really are eating the stuff, employees said. As for the healthier entrees, they’re served a little differently than parents may remember hot lunch.
“From the cook to the plate,” said Glosser.
She and her staff explained that rather than preparing lunch in a central kitchen, then letting it sit in a warmer until children start to arrive, they set their schedule to have the food fresh off the stove as soon as it’s done.
They do all of their prep work in the morning. Then they ready whatever has to be cooked. But they don’t cook it; they cool it until just before the students arrive.
So if the first group of kids is coming in at 11 a.m., the cooks pop the tenderloins they breaded into the oven at 10:40 a.m.
“As the kids are coming in [to the lunch room], they see them coming, out of the oven,” Glosser said.
“It makes a big difference,” added Hawkins.