Made-from-scratch options are a foreign concept to some kids

Accepting a portion of spaghetti that someone is dishing out may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a new experience for several local youngsters used to getting all their meals pre-packaged.

It's one reason why having someone to help guide them through the school district's scratch-made lunches and salad bars is helpful, Joe Hamilton Elementary schoolteacher Amber Cron told the School Board last week.

"We had to sit, especially with the little guys, and coax them when we switched to bulk," Cron said. "We had some kids that honestly didn't touch the bulk food for the first two to three weeks. It kind of creeped them out because they don't eat anything that's not pre-packaged at home. Even peanut butter and jelly comes pre-done now."

Board members approved three part-time positions in the Nutrition Services Department, but initially couldn't decide whether the staff hired should work four days a week or five days a week. Cron advocated the five-day option, saying the staff could use the extra days to work with students.

When the district introduced foods served in bulk, Cron said she and other teachers talked to their students about what to expect. During the talk, when asked what their meals at home looked like, many students described entrees that came in plastic containers and were warmed in the microwave.

"One kid was talking about when (his) family cooked fish sticks and described putting them on a baking tray and putting them in the oven," she said. "It shocked us."

Even though funding for the Nutrition Network is gone, staff members in the new part-time positions will still be able to provide a nutrition education component to students in addition to manning the salad bars, said Nutrition Services Director Deborah Kravitz. The employees will work 3 1/2 hours a day, five days a week, she said.

At four days a week, the new positions would have cost the district $21,744 annually in salaries and benefits, Kravitz said. Adding the extra day will cost $27,182 a year in salaries and benefits, she said.

"One of the things that could be done on that extra day is doing taste testing in cafeterias at those schools," she said. "Working on Harvest of the Month and nutrition education promotion. We could be looking at doing fun things with trying new recipes and getting feedback and student involvement."

Kravitz, who became the Nutrition Services Director in July, said she wants to improve revenue by increasing student participation in the school meals program. The Nutrition Services Department has focused on improved and increased marketing, holding promotions like a "lucky tray day" to boost participation, she said.

Kravitz also cited a new practice at Crescent Elk Middle School of having students gather in its multipurpose room for 20 minutes before school. She said she hopes this will increase participation in the school breakfast program.

"Our breakfast participation, even though it's free for K-8, is really low," she said, adding that participation in the school breakfast program is actually low statewide. "We now have a captive audience for our school breakfast program."

Kravitz said her goal is also to include a supper and snack program for students who participate in the district's after-school program.

"We can do a supper and then a snack as well for after-school programs and increase revenue by over $3 per student who's participating," she said.

Salad bars were established at local schools with help from the California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities initiative. The school's Nutrition Network was funded through a $550,000 grant from Network for a Healthy California. That program is set to end next month.

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