County schools serving up leaner, greener lunches

Brevard Public Schools has rolled out a host of new lunch menu items this year, in an attempt to make meals healthier and entice students to buy school lunch.

District dietician specialist Laurie Conlin said the changes are a result of both students and parents seeking smarter food choices.

“We always had salads but now we’re starting to be a little more creative with the different types of salads we have and having them on the menu more often,” Conlin said. “We noticed we were having more and more vegetarian and vegan students asking, ‘What can we have for lunch?’”

Students can still get pizza, chicken sandwiches and fries, but the goal is to offer up more of the good stuff, like salads as entrees and sides like fresh fruit, carrot and celery sticks, side salads, hummus, rice and beans.

Feedback has been largely positive from parents, students, administrators and lunch staff.

“Most of these are very popular,” Hoover Middle School lunchroom manager Lori Harmer said while manning the cash register during a recent lunch period at the school.

Seventh-grader Coby Massingill, munching on a side salad, said he usually chooses fruits or veggies for a side, and sometimes for the main course.

“They just taste good and I know it’s healthy for you,” he said.

Coby added that he is a runner and he has physical education right after lunch, so he likes to keep his energy levels up. “Also,” he admitted, “my mom likes me to eat healthy.”

Conlin said the menu items will be assessed throughout the school year to see which are more popular and which aren’t. For example, students at Hoover love the southwest chicken salad, with red pepper strips and antibiotic-free chicken. The fresh green salad with black beans, cranberries and sunflower seeds? Not so much.

District food nutrition manager Dawn Menz said fewer choices are being offered every day, and instead the focus is on what students like.

“We’re still serving variety but it’s the students’ favorites,” Menz said.

“So instead of offering 12-15 entrees we’re offering seven entrees, but those entrees are going to be those students’ favorites.”

The offerings are in line with the National School Lunch Program, which sets guidelines for food served in schools.

Conlin said the district’s dieticians and nutrition staff visit other schools to sample foods, as well as trade shows and other events. They then test and tweak selected recipes to serve locally.

They also look at what students are eating outside of school in an effort to prevent kids becoming bored with daily lunchroom offerings.

“I would say we’re always having to go out in the marketplace and see what’s served in the restaurants,” Menz said.

The price of school lunch remained the same this year at $1.80 for elementary and middle school and $1.90 for high school. Parents and students can view each day’s lunch offerings at www.brevard.nutrislice.com.

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