Now serving healthy options

Monitoring nutritional value and student attitude important to school district

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Nutritionally wise

Teresa Wise, first-year director for the Steamboat Springs School District's Nutritional Services Dept., has been accepted into the Nutritional Fellows Institute, giving Wise two years of nutritional management classes for just $100 a year. She will be able to travel across the country and learn from experts about the food and nutrition industry. Wise said she is looking forward to bringing that training and expertise back to Steamboat.

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Steamboat Springs junior Austin Pivarnik hands Bonnie Hansen money for milk during Wednesday's mid-morning snack break. Nutritional Services Department Director Teresa Wise believes the snack break is good for growing high school students.

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Steamboat Springs School District Nutritional Services Director Teresa Wise cuts a hard-boiled egg for the salad bar at the high school Wednesday. Wise said the salad bar and prepared chicken salads are popular items.

— Teresa Wise doesn't believe in hiding behind the hot lunch counter.

She enjoys interacting with students, staff and parents, and she is on a mission to increase participation in the Steamboat Springs School District's breakfast and lunch programs as the district's nutrition services director.

Wise works her way around the district's four schools, asking elementary students what they would like to make lunch better ("parmesan cheese for spaghetti"), prodding middle school students for new menu items (stir fry) and watching what high school students bring back to school when they leave campus for lunch (Chinese, soup and burritos).

"We try to focus on offering students choices and increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption," Wise said.

This year, the district's Nutrition Services Department has started offering breakfast at the middle school and high school.

For lunch, high school students can choose from multiple items such as soup and salad or à la carte items such as pretzels and Honey Stinger energy bars.

The high school has started offering more bars, such as build-a-burrito, to give students even more choices.

Middle school students can have salad bar, fruit slushes, bagel or cereal lunches or the hot entree. Entrees are served daily at all schools.

A salad bar also has been introduced at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools, giving students more fresh fruit and fresh vegetable options daily.

"I spoke with lunchroom supervisors (for first and fourth grades), and they said overall the kids are loving it," Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris said. "They said, for first and fourth graders, they are amazed at how many kids really enjoy the salad and will really heap it up."

Wise has been on the job for less than six months, but she already is impressed with the attitude Steamboat's students display about food. For example, Soda Creek students asked Wise to start serving bottled water.

"Younger kids are very concerned about what they are eating now," Wise said. "There are amazing kids here."

Wise must balance vegetarian options, food allergies and enough choices with federal nutritional guidelines, which are restricting nutritional services departments in challenging ways, she said.

Menus are made out one week at a time, and the fat, saturated fat and caloric count is taken for all meals and calculated. Meals cannot surpass 30 percent fat or 10 percent saturated fat, and must meet federal guidelines for Vitamins A and C as well as fiber and protein.

Parents have inquired about certain items such as pizza being served twice a week at the high school, but Wise said students receive one large slice, and it meets certain nutritional requirements or it would not be on the list.

But keep in mind, she added, the caloric needs for teenagers are different than those of a mature adults, so food such as pizza, chocolate milk, whole grain white bread and turkey hot dogs are good nutritional options for students.

"They are growing," Wise said of Steamboat's students, noting the high activity level of children in this town.

Contrary to popular opinion, the district does not fry food and makes many of its baked goods from scratch. The lunch servers at the elementary schools, middle school and high school try their best to ensure that they run out of nothing, which students have identified as one of their biggest complaints about school lunch.

Middle school breakfast and lunch coordinator Mary Dike said it's a guessing game to predict how many students will want bagels, pizza, salad or the menu item because students' tastes change daily.

But Wise said there is no guessing on whether students will want to eat breakfast or lunch. Studies show that proper nutrition and a good meal helps a student focus in a classroom. She and her colleagues are in the profession because they share the belief that feeding children is one of the most important things a public school system does.

"If you have a hungry kid, that's all they think about," Wise said.

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