Steamboat Springs Kitchen staff members for the Steamboat Springs School District gets an early start in the mornings as they prepare close to 600 school lunches.
Providing a good nutritious school lunch requires a lot of planning in finding recipes both appealing and nutritious for the student population.
"We've worked hard to elevate school lunches to an integral part of school," said Roberta Gill, director of nutritional services.
Gill said a student is expected to receive one-third of his or her recommended daily allowance through a school lunch.
"That is what our mission is," she said.
To help reach the nutritional standards, the district lunch program uses NutriKids, a computer program that calculates a meal's nutritional value in comparison to the RDA standard.
For example, one of the previous school lunch menus consisted of a stuffed-crust pizza with a tossed salad, peaches and milk or orange juice.
The meal contained 704 calories, 28.3 grams of protein, 95.2 grams of carbohydrates and 25.2 grams of fat.
This lunch was on target based on RDA dietary standards.
A total of 667 calories is recommended, with 30 percent of the calories being from fat.
The meal also contained higher amounts of Calcium, Iron, vitamin A and vitamin C than recommended.
Gill said most lunches provide a higher percentage of vitamins and minerals than is required.
She said the biggest challenge is keeping the saturated fat content at 10 percent of the meal's total calories.
To increase the nutritional value of the vegetables served, between 95 percent and 98 percent of the produce is fresh, Gill said.
She said the digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals are increased when the food is fresh, not canned.
Gill said the presentation of food is just as important to the students as the taste.
"Kids eat so much fast food. If the products are wrapped, the acceptance level is greater," she said.
All kitchen staff members are parents and work together to create recipes the students will like, Gill said.
She said sometimes people bring recipes from home to try in the schools.
Gill said it is important to take some chances and expose students to new foods, but it is discouraging when students are hesitant to try something new and large quantities of food are wasted.
"It's the whole mystique of cool food," she said.
The elementary and middle schools have the same school menu, but the middle school has more menu choices and a salad bar.
Treats such as brownies, cookies and fruit are also sold as a la carte items at the middle school.
Eighth-grader Alex Church said a person can eat healthy through school lunches, but there are plenty of opportunities to eat foods high in sugar and fat.
He said he buys his lunch most of the time, but could bring it if he wanted to have greater control over his diet.
Eighth-grader Chris Hainault said the food served in the cafeteria is tastier and offers more choices than the previous school he attended.
The high school has its own food program separate from the elementary and middle schools. The high school food program provides students with a variety of meal choices and a la carte items.
Gill said she is working to establish a meal program at the high school this year similar to the elementary and middle schools. She said because the high school has a different meal program that is not federally aligned, students are not eligible for reduced or free lunches if they qualify.
Providing reduced and free lunches is one of the priorities and requirements of the school lunch program, Gill said.
Another concern for health officials is the addition of vending machines that contain unhealthy, high-fat items such as chips and candy bars.
Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said he had the vending and soda machines put on a timer to prevent students from eating junk food during the school day.
The vending machine is available to students only after school from 3:15 to 5 p.m.
The high school does not have a vending machine but has two soda and water machines.
Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the district does not have a contract with a soft drink provider because it would require additional soda machines to be added at the high school.
The importance of students' nutrition can be seen in their academic performance and also can be the cause of disease later in life, said Ann Keating, basic life training teacher at the middle school.
She said she hopes students take what they learn from their health studies and put it to practice.
"If I just affect one thing, I feel good," she said.
With the addition of the basic life training class, offered to sixth- through eight-graders, Keating said she hopes students see the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The curriculum covers a number of topics, from relationships to nutrition.
"It takes a village" to ensure the health and well-being of students in the community, Keating said.