Missoula School Lunch Program Serves Healthy Foods Kids Like [AUDIO]
The challenge? Serve 6,500 meals a day to kids ranging in age from kindergarten through 12th grade, and those meals must that include foods that kids will not only eat, but enjoy eating. It's a challenge Stacy Rossmiller and her staff tackle every weekday throughout the school year.
Rossmiller is Food and Nutrition Supervisor for Missoula School District One. She has a strict set of rules and regulations to follow in the process of feeding breakfast and lunch to Missoula's public school students.
"We have to follow the guidelines that are sent out by the USDA, and of course, those have become more stringent over the years because of the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act," Rossmiller said. "However, MCPS not only meets, but exceeds all of the standards we are given. We have to provide a certain caloric intake per day, and we have a computer program that we put our menu items into that analyzes the nutritional value of the menu options that we have."
Kids love certain foods, a lot. Rossmiller has taken that under consideration in preparing the school meal menus.
"Of course, we try to make sure we have the most popular items in there for the kids as well, so they'll want to eat," Rossmiller said. "We're talking about all the standard items like; chicken nuggets, spaghetti, pizza, macaroni and cheese. The same things kids have always liked. But even if they don't sound healthy, we feed our kids the healthiest possible options we can find, because we do have to follow those guidelines."
Rossmiller describes what constitutes healthy chicken nuggets.
"They're all white meat with whole-grain breading and we bake them, we don't fry them," Rossmiller said. "It's not like going to a fast-food restaurant where the food is covered in grease. They are baked, and as healthy as you can possibly get."
The big question... do the kids like them?
"They love them," Rossmiller said. "It's one of our most popular menu items. The pizza is made from scratch over in our central kitchen. We make our own whole-grain crust. We use low-fat mozzarella cheese, the pizza sauce is low-sodium, and we add kale for extra vitamins and nutrients. All our menus have been analyzed through the CATCH program, and as far as our pizza goes, it's probably one of the healthiest you're going to find."
Kids are allowed to bring their own lunch from home, and the staff doesn't look over their shoulders and nag them about food choices. However, Rossmiller said, they do address nutrition in the classroom.
"We do work with the teachers as they talk to the students about healthy food choices and nutritional values, and that's becoming a large part of the health curriculum," Rossmiller said.
Any parent who is curious about the meals the schools are serving is invited to come to his or her child's school and eat with the child.
"Anyone is welcome to come to the school and ask questions about our menus," Rossmiller said. In addition, we have people come over to our central kitchen to see where and how we prepare the food. You can even try one of our whole-wheat cookies. If you've never heard of a whole-wheat cookie, you might think it's gross, but they're absolutely fantastic."
There is a charge for each meal. However, free or low-cost meals are available by applying to the district office.