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Pizza is favorite meal at Kenmare School

Kenmare Public School head cook Barb Henderson faces a challenge every day as she and her staff prepare meals for the district’s 300 students at a cost of $2.50 per meal, including the 30 cents charged for a carton of milk. “I try to please them with stuff they know, stuff they like and stuff they’re familiar with,” she said.

8/10/11 (Wed)

 

Kenmare Public School head cook Barb Henderson faces a challenge every day as she and her staff prepare meals for the district’s 300 students at a cost of $2.50 per meal, including the 30 cents charged for a carton of milk. “I try to please them with stuff they know, stuff they like and stuff they’re familiar with,” she said.

 

Not all of those students take advantage of the school’s breakfast and lunch meals, of course, but the majority do.

 

In fact, Henderson keeps records on the students’ preferences. Pizza is their favorite entree, with an average of 197 meals served on the days pizza is listed on the menu, followed by taco-in-a-bag, soup, salad and breadsticks, chili crispitos, and sub sandwiches to round out the top five choices.

 

Henderson can’t serve pizza every day, however. She has federal requirements to follow so the school qualifies for the meal program funds, as well as state guidelines that must be met.

 

Pulling out her copy of the “Traditional School Lunch Pattern” as provided by the USDA for the National School Lunch Program, Henderson explained she is required to offer five different elements for each lunch, including milk, a meat or meat alternative, cooked or raw vegetables, fruit, and a grain or bread item. “Kids have to have three of those on their plate,” she said. “We can’t tell them which three. My job is to offer them five things, and then we watch to make sure they have at least three.”

 

Portion sizes for the meal program are regulated by the USDA, with Henderson and her staff serving the minimum and recommended quantities as measured by the serving utensils they use.

 

Henderson acknowledged that using the scoops may change the appearance of the food slightly, but she also noted her staff tends to be generous when filling those scoops or measuring servings of meat. “We do what we do up here as effectively and efficiently as we can,” she said.

 

Henderson posts the lunch menu in The Kenmare News each week so students and parents can plan ahead. “I try to get a variety of the different meats weekly, like beef, pork and chicken,” she said. “They’ll have soup and sandwich one day per week, at the maximum.”

 

She actually plans her menus on a five to six-week cycle, but orders and receives the groceries weekly. The school district belongs to a cooperative and is required to order about 80 percent of the meal program items that way, according to Henderson.

 

The cooperative offers a wide variety of products with the CN, or “Child Nutrition,” label which indicates the product meets nutritional requirements for the school lunch program.

 

“Generally, those items are in the right price range and the best you can get for the healthy standards,” said Henderson. “I like certain brands for things, though. I know they perform well, hold well and the kids like it. I try to go for the most economical purchase, but I also consider quality.”

 

Henderson does purchase bread locally, splitting her orders between Kenmare’s two grocery stores. She bakes the hamburger buns fresh at the school, using frozen dough.

 

The kitchen staff does not serve “seconds” to kids, but a salad bar, featuring shredded lettuce and some vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and black olives, along with three regular dressings and light versions of ranch and French dressings, is set up at the high school every day, along with white and wheat bread, peanut butter and jelly. Students at the elementary school can request lettuce, dressings and vegetables, along with the extra bread and toppings.

 

“That way, at each meal the kids probably have eight or nine choices of items,” Henderson said.

 

She appreciates feedback from students, teachers and parents about the meals, even as she realizes she has potentially more than 300 people to please. “We try to take their likes and dislikes into consideration,” she said, “and to serve the meals as healthy as we can.”