Feeding the Future: School Lunch Review

Students line up for lunch at Hoopa Elementary School on Friday, February 14. Few students visited the salad bar, but most loved their spaghetti. The salad bar was made possible by a grant from the Salad Bars to Schools Program. There is now a salad bar for all ages at Hoopa Elementary, Trinity Valley Elementary and Orleans Elementary schools./Photo by Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune.

By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune

Pizza and Salisbury steak sound salivating.

And, salty to Monoique Sonoquie, a local woman who has set her sights on a new and improved school lunch program for the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District (KTJUSD).

Sonoquie brought her concerns to the school board meeting last week and was disappointed with the response she received from interim superintendent, Dione Beilby. So, she demanded a meeting with Beilby to further discuss her concerns and ideas. That meeting was held on Wednesday, February 12 and the Two Rivers Tribune was allowed to sit in.

Sonoquie, joined by another parent, Lynn Abarr, said she believes many of the behavioral issues and academic challenges within the schools could likely be solved if children receive healthy meals, loaded with nutrients and obtained locally using a farm to school program linked to nutritional education projects.

She hopes to implement more local native foods as well as organic alternatives to what is already provided.

Using the New York Coalition for Health School Food outline for creating positive change in schools, Sonoquie shared a handful of her many ideas for KTJUSD schools.

“I want to see, not just a salad bar, but a yogurt bar for breakfast, a taco bar, burrito bar, pasta bar,” she said. “We have a lot of resources in our area that we’re not tapping into.”

“The school food environment is a microcosm of the food environment in our society, and it contributes not just to obesity, but also to setting children up for heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, behavioral problems, and poor health regardless of whether the student is overweight or not,” The New York Coalition states on their website.

Beilby said she supports improvements, but all state and federal guidelines must be followed to be in compliance with the law, and in order to receive reimbursements for lunches served.

School food coordinator Mason Clark agreed to an interview during lunchtime at Hoopa Elementary School on Friday.

On the tray today: Spaghetti, red jello (it was Valentine’s Day), a brownie, milk and optional salad bar.

The children devoured their food, but few visited the salad bar. Clark said the kids love the cafeteria spaghetti, and it was obvious. One of the custodians joked about the mess left behind.

“It’s always messier when they like the food,” he said.

Clark said there are three main challenges he faces when menu planning for all the schools in the district. The first is finding nutritious foods that the children will eat. The second is staying within the State and Federal nutritional regulations—which vary depending on the age of the students. The third is staying within a reasonable budget.

The school is reimbursed anywhere between 26 cents and $2.90 per meal they provide, depending on the income of each student’s family.

Some of the food is purchased and some, mostly meat, canned goods, flour and pasta, is sent to the school from the federal government in the form of commodities—about 10,000-20,000 pounds, or seven-to-eight pallets every two months.

Clark said KTJUSD has made gradual changes to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and less sugar.

He also said the school district has a problem it must balance—some children have too much food insecurity (hungry from lack of food at home), and others struggle with obesity.

“I always think we can do better,” Clark, who is a six-hour-per-day employee, said. “There has been talk about doing a larger farm to school program and there are funds available through the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). We’re a rural school with a high poverty rate. We’re in a prime position to receive funds.”

But, it’s a lot of work to do alone while managing several cafeterias within the district that combined serve more than 1,000 students every day.

Clark is looking forward to the newly formed committee’s energy and support.

Beilby is supportive too and offered Sonoquie school space and administrators to help form and steer the committee through the regulatory maze.

Beilby also suggested the development of a survey for the students to help guide the development of an improved school food program.

“If you’re willing to take on this challenge and follow all the guidelines, I’m willing to look at what you have,” she said.

The committee will hold its first meeting on Tuesday, February 25 at 5:30 pm in the Hoopa Valley High School Library. Interested members of the community are encouraged to attend.

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