School lunch: It’s much more than just lunch

© 2017-Huron Plainsman

Amid the class schedules, shopping for school supplies, and figuring out your child’s bus stop, take time to get acquainted with Huron’s nutrition department. It’s not just about lunch anymore.
The Huron School District employs three full-time staff, including the School Nutrition Director Carol Tompkins, and 33 part-timers who include bakers, cooks, food preparation, salad bar workers, clerical staff, cashiers, program planning, dishwashers, delivery drivers, servers, and clean up crew.
“We are all inclusive except for payroll,” said Tompkins. “We do it all including scratch baking. The bakers arrive at 5:30 a.m.”  
The majority of the food prep and cooking is done at the Middle School including all the baking and almost all the entree preparation. The food is then transported and served at the High School, three elementary buildings and Holy Trinity Catholic School. The nutrition department prepares and serves more than 1,800 lunches and more than 530 breakfasts district wide each day.
An application for Free and Reduced Meals will be sent home with each student on the first day of school. It is also available on the district Web site at www.huron.k12.sd.us. Any family who qualified for the program last year has a 30-day carry-over period to submit a new application before they will be charged for meals.
“It is very important to get these applications turned in early,” Tompkins said. “Also, parents only need to fill out one application for the whole family.”
Each school cashier will be available at their building’s open house or welcome back night. Parents are encouraged to bring money and set up their student’s school lunch account at that time. Applications for Free and Reduced Meals will also be accepted.
Another great tool for parents is the My School Bucks program. This program is available on the district Web site Home Page under the Quick Links menu.
“All a parent needs to set up an account is their child’s name, birth date and which building they attend,” explained Tompkins. “Parents may make secure deposits into a child’s account using the My School Bucks program. There is a $2 fee for each transaction, but you can make deposits into several accounts in different buildings during that one transaction. There is also an automatic payment option. Parents can set up a payment plan and never have to worry about lost money or negative balance letters again.
“There are also a lot of features they can use for free,” Tompkins continued, “such as keeping up with account balances, tracking student purchases, and setting up low balance reminders to be sent by email. This is a great tool.”
The lunch menus are also posted on the Web site. The menus are on a six-week cycle. Meals are planned based on the kids’ favorites, which commodity foods will be available from USDA, and how to fit in with USDA regulations covering sodium and fat intake and total calories. Each week must also include a specific number and color of fruits and vegetables.
“It is quite a juggling act to get everything to fall into place,” Tompkins said. “We are getting very creative to make it work, but we are glad to offer our students healthy and nutritious food.”
Students may refuse one item at breakfast and two items at lunch, however they must take at least one-half cup of fruit or vegetable, Tompkins explained.
New menu items this year are a meatball sub sandwich, a barbecued pulled pork sandwich, cheese burgers and pigs-in-a-blanket.
“We tried the meatball sub this summer as part of the summer feeding program and the kids loved it,” said Tompkins. “Parents and grandparents are encouraged to join their students for lunch. Just call the school office by 9 a.m. The kids love it and it’s a great way to provide input to the department. The USDA provides support for school lunch programs through commodity foods. However, they are not supplementing adult meals. That is why adults pay the full price of a meal, but where else can you get a hot, nutritious lunch for $4.10?”
Returning this year is the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This is a grant program, so it doesn’t cost the district any money. The purpose of FFVP is to introduce students to a variety of produce they might not otherwise get to taste. Each day a different item is presented along with some background information. This is the first year Holy Trinity students will be part of the program.
Tompkins said she tries to buy locally whenever possible, at least twice a week.
“I like buying locally because stuff fresh from the garden tastes better and is a better quality,” she said. “It also supports our local community and economic growth. I’m all for that.”
She also buys fresh produce regionally including apples from Yankton, watermelons and muskmelons. The problem is finding a producer who can provide 2,000 servings at one time.
“We love to have the public join us for lunch,” said Tompkins. “We appreciate the comments and feedback from the community. We can’t please everyone, but we try our best to provide nutritious, healthy meals that taste great.”

Photos
A contingent of nine ovens, including a combination oven/steamer, stand ready in the Middle School kitchen to prepare more than 2,000 meals each school day during the year. The commercial dish machine at the Middle School is used to clean and sanitize everything from baking sheets, pots and pans, lunch trays to silverware from all six buildings in the district, including Holy Trinity Catholic School.