FD schools food service works to meet mandates

The Fort Dodge Community School District continues to meet the mandates set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Brenda Janssen, FDCSD director of food services, said students are responding better to its nutritional guidelines, including having more fruits and vegetables with meals.

“Last year we saw an uptake of fresh fruit and vegetables that the elementary students were eating,” Janssen said. “They did very well.”

The same is true at Fort Dodge Middle School, according to Nick Sells, district chef with Taher Inc., the district’s food service provider.

“As far as fruits and vegetables go they went through a lot, depending on what the fresh fruit was on any given day,” he said. “They would eat quite a bit.”

With the new school year, more nutritional changes are being made.

“This year they’ve greatly reduced the sodium we can have in our foods,” Janssen said. “In the past all of grains items, our breads and pasta, we had to serve at least 50 percent whole grain. This year, it’s 100 percent whole grain.”

Breakfast is also being changed.

“Starting this year, they have to have a half a cup of fruits and/or vegetables on their breakfast tray. We’re not just talking about fruit juice,” Janssen said. “We’re just trying to do things a little differently. If somebody wants to eat baby carrots for breakfast instead of an orange, by golly they can do that.”

A challenge, Janssen said, is integrating the requirements into meals enticing to students.

“We have a criteria that we have to serve a half cup of legumes or beans for a week, and it’s kind of hard to get them to eat black beans, lentils,” she said. “What we did, kidney beans we try to put those in chili. We try to put our black beans in salsa on Mexican day.”

The department’s finances have improved in recent years, Brandon Hansel, FDCSD director of financial services, said.

“The year before I started with the district, it only had a net profit of $846,” he said. “This past year, we had a net profit of $54,000. We’ve done a lot of work as far as controlling our costs, reducing our costs, and have been able to increase that margin quite a bit.”

The revenue is used to replace equipment, Hansel said.

“When you consider that the average cost of a commercial oven is about $20,000, it doesn’t go far,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of profitability, to be able to sustain those replacements.”

The district, though, continues to be impacted by the new guidelines.

“Anybody who’s been to the grocery store recently knows how expensive it is to feed a family,” Hansel said. “And when you take that amount times the 3,700 kids we have in the district, it’s a substantial amount.”

Sells said he has enjoyed producing fresher, healthier meals for students.

“There’s a lot more scratch cooking,” he said. “We know where all of our products are coming from when they’re fresh. Also, when we’re constructing a recipe we’ll know how it’s made.”

The district’s students benefit from having healthier choices, Jennifer Lane, FDCSD director of communications, said.

“We want our students to be safe and productive kids, and the healthier they eat the better they’re going to be for a lifetime,” Lane said. “We also know that, unfortunately, some of our students may not have the most nutritious meals outside of school, and because of that we want to do everything we can to be sure they’re getting healthy, nutritious options while they’re with us.”