For Mimi Mahaney-Stalzer, food service director for Caledonia Community Schools, the biggest competition she faces is a mother’s midday love note and a brightly colored lunchbox.
“We love seeing kids eating a healthy, balanced lunch no matter what, but we’re really working hard to have those same options in our school cafeterias,” she said. “Something I truly believe we are achieving.”
Currently, 55 percent of students in Caledonia eat school-provided lunches, and 9 percent of students are included in the free and reduced lunch program. Across the nation, more than 100,000 schools and institutions serve school lunches to 30 million students each day, according to the School Nutrition Association.
“We are seeing more and more students eating school lunch every day,” Mahaney-Stalzer said. “As our options increase and our healthy food initiatives grow, we see an obvious increase in students eating our lunch.”
One of those initiatives is the Health-e Living website for Caledonia lunches.
“The website is a great resource for parents and students who are interested in learning more about the food offered at lunch time,” she said. “We are constantly updating the webpage with new initiatives and options for our students.”
On the website, parents and students can view menus, filter them by food sensitivity and see the nutritional value of all food offered. Visitors to the site can obtain educational materials about healthy living and eating. And parents can check out healthy recipes for their children, apply for free and reduced lunches, and pay for lunches by credit card.
“Having this online resource is invaluable to our community,” Mahaney-Stalzer said. “It’s a resource that goes beyond school lunch; it’s an asset to a healthy life.”
All of the options available on the website can also be accessed through a mobile application on a smartphone.
“Someone can carry their phone with them and find out anything they need to know right then and there with the app,” including that day’s menu and its nutritional content, Mahaney-Stalzer said.
Calorie Conscious Students
Having accessible nutritional information is especially important at the high school level, said Tammy Scholl, cafeteria leader at Caledonia North High.
“We get a lot of questions about calorie counts and nutritional values at the high school,” Scholl said. “Students want to know their options and they really do want to eat food that is good for them.”
Each school offers a salad bar, and at the middle and high school, there are self-serve fruit smoothies, fresh vegetables and fruits, and a large variety of food options. The benefits can be academic as well as physical, Scholl said.
“Not only is eating healthy food better for your body, but it’s better for your brain,” she said.
Brody Betser, a sixth-grader at Kraft Middle School, has a fruit smoothie almost every day with his lunch — although not so much for the health benefits, he admits.
“I don’t really think about a smoothie as being healthy,” Brody said. “It tastes good and I like to have it most days.”
A large majority of students also take advantage of the personalized sandwich bar, Mahaney-Stalzer said.
“Students like having options when they are picking out their lunch,” she said. “We had to get more creative with what we were offering. It was a great challenge for us that has paid for itself many times over.”
Looking ahead, Mahaney-Stalzer hopes to install a coffee bar at the high school and even more creative food sources for students across the district.
“We are fortunate to have a district that will prioritize student lunches like we have,” she said. “We will continue to share our resources between the schools and stand behind our food and our students’ health.”