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“Any time we do something from scratch, we have to take our recipe and put it into their sys- tem,” he said. “There’s been a lot more paperwork behind the scenes but once we do it, that recipe is there forever.”

By no means is the arrangement a moneymaker for ei- ther Keystone or Coyle Schools, but Sanders said a little creativity with meal planning compensates for such a small profi t mar- gin. On the other hand, Superintendent Sumrall said using Keystone staff to serve the food has saved some money but the meal budget is still tight.

“I’m able to offset some of the costs by having Keystone serve the food,” he said. “That way we’re not paying cafeteria worker salaries … but we’re not necessarily saving money.” Like all public schools across the country, Coyle receives funding from the federal government to pay for school meals but the monthly re- imbursement is very low. Offi cials with the Oklahoma Department of Education report $2.79 per meal is the maximum reimbursement a school can receive for a student qualifying for free lunch benefi ts. Even after adjusting the school’s budget and des- ignating more funding for food service, Sumrall said it’s diffi cult to break even. “We’re charging kids $2.20 a meal and that’s kids who aren’t on free or reduced meals,” Sumrall said. “Keystone charges $2.70 per student, but we’re not focused on making a profi t. We’re just trying to improve the quality of food and get more kids to eat in the cafeteria.” Fortunately, the plan is working; since Coyle’s “meal makeover” last fall, the district has noticed a dramatic increase in the number of kids who eat in the cafete- ria every day. From mashed potatoes and gravy to a fresh salad bar, Keystone’s meals are far from typical lunchroom options, and students and par-

“With our high poverty rate, breakfast and lunch could be the only meals these kids eat; When kids are hungry, the last thing on their minds is paying attention in class and con- centrating on their school work.”

Coyle Public Schools Superintendent Josh Sumrall

ents are pleased with the improvements.

“We were averaging about 200 meals but now we’re up to more than 300 a day,” Sumrall said. “Kids comment about the quality, lines are longer and you can see they’re eating. It’s been an overall good deal for our school.” Both the superintendent and Sanders said their current deal could poten-

tially become long-term, pending the results of an evaluation at the end of the fi scal year. As the months progress in the cafeteria experiment, Sumrall said other schools similar to Coyle are curious about the new arrangement. “I’ve actually had four or fi ve schools call me since we’ve started doing this, and I have no problem trying new things and being the guinea pig,” he said. “If it works well, great—then it’s good for our school. If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”

The opportunity to serve Coyle’s students has opened a new door of cli- ents for Keystone as well, and Sanders said he’s also been fi elding inquiries from other schools. He plans to meet with several other superintendents this semester and set up a few new school cafeteria accounts for the 2012-2013 school year. While the prospect of growing Keystone’s business is exciting, Sanders said his top priority is preparing healthy meals the students enjoy.

“It’s a great feeling when you make something good and

then serve it to those kids who come through the line,” he said. “With four-year-olds to eighteen-year-olds, they’re just as honest as the day is long and they’ll let you know when it’s not good or when it is.”


Food For Thought

lthough many schools across the state fi nd it challenging to maintain quality food service, only a few currently are using an option similar to Keystone. According to offi - cials at the Oklahoma Department of Education, most schools have a food service manager, while larger districts employ a food service director. At much smaller schools, break- fast and lunch responsibilities fall on the shoulders of a head cook. Regardless of who manages the lunch- room, serving up healthy and nutritious meals that children and teenagers will actually eat can be tricky.


“It’s up to each individual district to determine how they want to operate their cafeteria and spend their money,” said Joanie Hildenbrand, executive director of Child Nutrition Pro- grams at the Oklahoma Department of Education. “I think the biggest problem with schools not being able to serve more nutri- tious foods is the fact kids won’t eat it.”

In a society where children prefer French fries and chicken nuggets over vegetables and whole-grain foods, altering the eat- ing behaviors of today’s youth can seem like an uphill battle, es- pecially when schools are allowed to serve processed, pre-made meals. Hildenbrand said outdated minimum meal pattern re- quirements make it possible for schools to serve less-healthy meal options that still meet USDA standards. Also to break even, some larger schools offer à la carte food items that are higher in fats and sugars, such as cookies, candy and chips. “The kids are so conditioned by what is served at home,

such as chicken nuggets and pizza, that if their school tries to introduce broccoli or some other vegetable, it ends up in the trash,” she said. “And when fi scal-oriented food service managers see that, they revert back to the chicken nuggets and French fries, which are allowed under USDA nutrition requirements.”

However, First Lady Michelle Obama and offi cials with the USDA announced in January new guidelines for school meals, which are expected to encourage healthier eating hab- its in the lunchroom. As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, these new standards require schools to make sev- eral changes including offering both fruits and vegetables to students every day of the week, serving only fat-free or low-fat milk, increasing grain servings and focusing on a reduction in saturated fats, trans fats and sodium.

“The new guidelines also specify what quantities to serve based on the age of the children,” Hildenbrand said. Now that new nutrition requirements have been announced, the state department of education faces the task of training more than 500 school districts, 800 child care facilities and 100 other institutions about the updated standards. Slated to go into ef- fect in the fall of 2012, Hildenbrand said implementing the rule changes will take some time, but it will hopefully im- prove the health and nutrition of hungry students sitting in cafeterias across the country. “It’s going to be challenging but we’ve got to change kids’ tastes,” she said. “Nutrition is key to the growth and development of our students.” OL

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