Lunch ladies win national award for innovation

 

This week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that four school districts in the country would receive the new Healthy Meals Incentives Recognition Award, for "their trailblazing and innovative efforts to improve the nutritional quality of meals for their students."

Petersburg School District was among those four receiving the national recognition.

These awards - part of the Biden-Harris administration's Healthy Meals Initiative (HMI) - celebrate school districts who embrace opportunities to take their school meals to the next level, according to a press release sent out by the USDA on Monday.

"For many children, the school meals are the healthiest, most nutritious meals in their day-to-day lives," said Secretary Vilsack. "At USDA, we are proud to recognize schools that are going the extra mile in providing nutritious meals for students."

The press release stated, "Petersburg School District is receiving the 'Innovation in the Preparation of School Meals' award for their commitment to creating scratch and semi-scratch foods that incorporate local and culturally relevant ingredients like moose meat, carrots, herring eggs, and kale."

The awards spotlight innovative practices that engage students and their communities.

Carlee Johnson McIntosh, food service director for Petersburg School District, described for the Pilot how a grant received back in July has helped her school nutrition program to focus "on the whole student." This has included school events, more cooking from scratch to increase nutritional quality, local procurement like carrots provided by Farragut Farm, and the purchase of garden supplies.

McIntosh says, "we have really been working as a full team - Carol Larson, Katy Brantuas, Winter Skeek, Brittany Hutto, and Kayla Bailey, also Karla Sosa - to incorporate more and more scratch cooking and cultural foods."

McIntosh also teaches a food lifestyle class for her students. "I have had the great pleasure to have Alex Helms from Petersburg Indian Association partner with me on this project to introduce more Alaska Native foods."

"Recently, Victoria Moore was able to do the same ... we seasoned the fish with green salt, which is a lower sodium herb from ground up beach asparagus. The salmon not utilized at lunch was then used for our after school meals as salmon salad sandwiches," said McIntosh, adding that she looks forward to working more with local partners.

McIntosh says she works to integrate "a student voice" in what the school meals offer. "We have sat and talked about meal requirements, and what we can and cannot offer. They have let me know when items were not to their liking, and we lunch ladies have taken that honest feedback to improve what we can. It is always a struggle when we need to feed so many with so little time, but we are striving to do the best."

McIntosh says she has been in contact with Farragut Farm for future ideas, and has more grant funding efforts in the works.

She says the lunch ladies efforts to incorporate scratch or semi-scratch cooking is also a way to maximize the use of the ingredients. "When we are able to make multiple items it helps reduce our overall costs."

"I ask a lot of my staff and feel that every year we are getting better and better food," says McIntosh. "We have come a long way since my first day in 2011, but we are not done. We can always try new items and new ways to meet the USDA regulations and still have happy students."

 

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