Every day, students at all three Sisters public schools have the opportunity for a nutritious breakfast and lunch served by smiling nutrition workers. For as low as $2.00 per student for breakfast and $2.75 to $3.25 per student for lunch, students receive well-balanced meals.
The Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, driven by the USDA, changed the guidelines for what the nutrition services staff can prepare at each of the school sites. Even with the new guidelines, the nutrition staff in the Sisters School District do their best to make each meal their own.
Lunch menus include items like chicken tacos, spaghetti with breadsticks, and bean and cheese burritos. Meals come with fruit like an apple or applesauce and a vegetable. All three schools always have their fully stocked fresh salad bars available as well. Students are encouraged to try new fruits and vegetables as we rotate choices throughout the year with the seasons.
There are no bagged salads in any of the cafeterias in the district. Each school cuts and prepares greens for the salad bar every day. In the spring, all three schools are connected with local growers for their lettuce and other greens. Seed to Table coordinator, Audry Tehan, has been providing some produce for Sisters School District and soon the greenhouse at Sisters High School will allow for students to enjoy food that many of their classmates have grown.
“We do our best to make everything from scratch; we don’t use frozen burritos and they are hand-rolled”. Terri Rood, operations assistant for the Nutrition Services Department says, “Something like spaghetti is made in the high school kitchen and packaged and delivered to each of the schools to be served the same day.”
“Corn dogs are the students’ favorite,” Rood continues. “Students don’t know we use turkey hot dogs and whole-wheat breading. We try to make everything as healthy as possible.”
Rood has an office at Sisters High School and has been employed by the Sisters School District for the last 16 years. She is the only full-time employee in the Nutrition Services Department. The additional five employees work limited hours ensuring meals are prepped and ready to go for students.
“It’s challenging every day to make it happen,” she says. “I love connecting foods to kids at every school.” “And I tell you, our students won’t be able to leave this cafeteria without a fruit and vegetable on their plate. We do make a lot from scratch, including our granola that uses real honey, apple, juice and oats.”
Even though the nutrition workers provide healthy, nutritious meals using fresh ingredients as available, lunch numbers are still low, especially at the high school with around 40 students per day eating from the school cafeteria.
Around 100 students per day eat at the elementary school and just under 90 per day at the middle school. Breakfast numbers are lower with an average of 40 at the elementary school, and between 20-30 at the other two schools.
The low numbers at Sisters High School can be attributed to a variety of factors. Some students leave campus for lunch.
Staff in the Nutrition Services Department believe there is a stigma around eating hot lunch in the older grades. Some students use their lunchtime for socializing, some don’t want to be seen as the student who eats hot lunch, and there are some who may not be aware of the choices that are available.
“The number (of students that we serve) is low,” Rood says. “We are doing a lot to try to eliminate the stigma of eating lunch from the cafeteria. We need to work on marketing what we have to offer to our students and their families.”
There are suggestion boxes at all three schools for students to submit ideas for new and different menu items. Students can also share what they like and don’t like on the menu. The more constructive the comments, the better it helps the staff to improve.
While lunch numbers are lower in the higher grades, the elementary school has seen an increase of about 20 students purchasing food at the cafeteria since November, when Angelena Bosco started full time. She believes that is due to the positive attitude in the kitchen.
“Kids wave now and have a good feeling about coming in (to the cafeteria),” says Bosco. “We would love to have more students eat hot lunch and are constantly asking ourselves how can we get more students to come in? What can we improve upon?”
There is a common theme throughout all three kitchens in the district: positive energy
At the high school, Rood loves to share new food with the students.
“There was a senior a few years back that had never had a kiwi,” says Rood. “I cut it up and encouraged him to try it, he came back and said it was the best thing he ever tasted.”
As spring comes around, Rood is especially looking forward to using her living wall in the cafeteria. A contribution from the Sisters Science Club a few years back, the living wall allows her to grow herbs, edible flowers, tomatoes, and more right in the cafeteria.
“Students can walk by on their way through picking up their lunch and grab a tomato,” she says. “They have told me they don’t like tomatoes. I tell them to try one from the vine, and sometimes it changes their mind.”