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Food For Thought

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – Bread, dairy, meat and vegetable – sure, pizza’s nutritious with ingredients from those four food groups.

This less-than-sound logic is common among teens, even college students. Unfortunately, say some Summit parents and school officials, it might be the same reasoning used in putting together school cafeteria menus. Wednesday, the Summit School Board announced plans to form a task force to review the nutritional value of school lunches.

“For four years, I’ve been concerned about the school lunch program,” Superintendent Wes Smith said. “It’s not good food, we’re not teaching students to eat well, and this with an epidemic of obesity facing our children.”

In the mid-1990s, as the school district faced millions of dollars in budget cuts, the district’s food service program underwent a major change. The food department was forced to become financially self-sufficient. According to Smith, this put the district’s food service managers in a position of having to serve food that sells and to find foods that can be made easily and cheaply.

The district’s eight school kitchens make many offerings from scratch. At Summit High School, for example, cooks make their own spaghetti and barbecue sauces, ranch dressing and other items used on a frequent basis. Each school’s head cook designs the menu and orders necessary ingredients, while adhering to the state’s strict guidelines for balanced nutrition. Healthy selections such as salads, fresh fruits and vegetables are offered and, at the high school, the only food item deep fried are potatoes.

What concerns school board members and parents, however, is the preponderance of not-so-healthy options available to students. The schools serve pizza, usually from restaurants such as Domino’s, at least once a week. High school students also can purchase Subway sandwiches once a week and have access to snack and soft drink vending machines.

“This is so good to hear,” school board member Jay Brunvand said of the review. “I thought I was the only one who looked at the menu and saw pizza all the time.”

Parents at Wednesday’s school board meeting shared the concern about school food. Lisa Ferguson of Breckenridge asked why easy, inexpensive options like salad or potato bars weren’t available. Her daughter, seventh-grader Abby, wrote the school board a letter expressing her hope the directors could change the menu. Abby Ferguson packed her lunch every day except one last year.

“The reason for this reluctance to buy my food at school was because the nutritional values, variety, and sanitary aspects were appalling,” the middle-schooler wrote.

Speaking to the Summit Daily News Thursday, Abby Ferguson said many of her friends also pack their lunch for the same reason. Even more would pack lunch, she said, if they had the time in the morning or their parents bought packable food.

“They talk a lot about eating right and nutrition, but they don’t set a good example with the food they serve,” Abby Ferguson said of the school district. “It’s even more important as a kid, otherwise we develop wrong.”

Mother Niki Harris said that, even if the price of lunch had to go up to improve the nutritional value, she’d probably still save money over what she spends on food to pack in lunches. “I wouldn’t mind paying more at all,” she said.

Smith said the school board would form a committee of parents, board members and medical professionals. He said the committee would spend the first semester of this school year examining school menus and the food service operation and produce a report in December. The school board will then evaluate any proposed changes for budget impacts and try to implement feasible solutions in the second semester.

The district’s food service managers could not be reached for comment, but one food service worker interviewed said offering more healthy selections is only part of the answer. Cafeterias can serve all the nutritious, homemade food they want, but if students have cash, they buy snacks from the machines or the a la carte menu.

Older high school students often complain the school should have an “open campus” policy that would allow them to leave the grounds for lunch. Administrators have resisted such a policy because it presents safety and responsibility issues, not to mention the question of whether students have enough time to eat in Frisco or Breckenridge and make it back to class.

Superintendent Smith knows the challenge facing the task force is a big one.

“This is difficult, no question,” he said. “You’re dealing with cost, but even more, you’re dealing with student taste.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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