Dietitian critical of school lunch program

April 22–A parent and registered dietitian prompted Butte school trustees on Monday to form a committee to study how to meet new government-approved nutrition guidelines.

Julia Coyne, who has a daughter at Whittier Elementary, has interned in the district and has seen the school lunch program up close, she said.

Coyne stressed that the district can do a better job of providing more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, more protein and less processed food. She is concerned about the district meeting new federal guidelines, due in July, for 2014-15.

“I still feel it’s still below standards,” said Coyne, who sends a cold lunch for her daughter. “Our hot lunch items are leaving kids behind. I do not feel this has changed in three years.”

Superintendent Judy Jonart said she would appreciate having Coyne’s expertise brought to the table.

“If you’re working with me, it would be baby steps,” said Jonart, “but I know we can get through this. You are specially trained and have a lot of cool ideas.”

Coyne, who volunteers one day a week at her daughter’s lunch time, would like to see more parents become involved in their children’s food choices at school.

“If you would promote and encourage more parents to come one day a week,” said Coyne, “I’m sure there would be more than one parent willing to volunteer.”

Trustee John Ries said logistics are tricky because the district would have to conduct a background check on each volunteer.

Furthermore, the increasing cost of food and cost of labor is a constant balancing act, said Jonart.

While the schools offer a healthy salad bar choice, one problem is that students tend to select a side salad if it’s already prepared. Giving students only 15 minutes to eat does not lend itself to labor-intensive salad-making, said Coyne.

As for fresh produce, students often must be steered to try fruit.

“The kids like Pop-Tarts and will grab that before they grab a banana or apple,” said Jonart, adding that the district buys more local produce now.

Students are encouraged to try a new vegetable or fruit at least once a month, plus the recent Butte High Future Chefs competition showcased healthier ingredients in retooled recipes that met current federal guidelines. Those tried-and-true recipes will be made in the elementary schools, said Harrison.

Coyne suggests substituting more beans, for instance, in place of preservative-heavy canned foods or hot dogs, for protein.

“It’s wonderful that you come to talk to us,” trustee Hilary Risser told Coyne. Risser suggested that she conduct a family outreach class to educate parents on healthy food choices.

Jonart said she’ll form a committee that includes Coyne and Mark Harrison, the district’s Central Services Director who oversees the hot lunch program.