District says no thanks to free meals program

Schools opt out of community eligibility program because administrators say lunch benefits don't outweight other lost funds.

July 25—Clarke County public schools will take a pass on a new free-lunch-for-all federal program, at least for now.

Under the “Healthy, Hunger-free Kids” act of 2010, school districts with high levels of students who qualify for free or reduced lunchroom prices can opt to offer free lunches to all students this year.

The Clarke County School District easily qualifies.

Since 2003, the percent of pupils in Clarke schools who qualify for free or reduced lunch has jumped from 64 percent in 2003 to 82 percent as of 2013, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

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On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

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We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

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We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

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Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

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