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Schools seek ways to make healthier lunches more appealing

2013-04-26T17:03:00Z 2013-04-27T22:32:31Z Schools seek ways to make healthier lunches more appealingOMAR RICARDO AQUIJE -- Glens Falls Post-Star

LAKE GEORGE -- As the students poured into the cafeteria, a man in a chef outfit was there to greet them.

He smiled at students, and held up a tray with samples of Jamaican chicken stew and minted mandarin oranges.

“How are you doing? Want to try a sample?” A.J. Richards told students as they arrived for lunch.

Richards, a chef at Dunham’s Bay Resort, was invited Wednesday to Lake George High School for “Guest Chef Day,” a first-time event.

Richards’ challenge was to prepare a meal using the same foods the school uses, while complying with federal regulations, and to cook up a lunch students would eat.

The meal included confetti corn bread with apple butter and rice pilaf.

The stew was made with red and green peppers, black beans, carrots, chicken and chicken stock — foods he found in the school’s pantry.

“I didn’t bring anything,” Richards said. “It’s the same chicken. I just prepared it differently.”

The stew proved popular with students. The samples vanished from Richards’ tray.

While some of the rice, cornbread and mandarin oranges were left uneaten, all the stew was served. Some students had seconds, and they complimented Richards’ cooking.

Paul Rabine, a seventh-grader, said inviting a chef was a good idea.

“I think that was a better choice for the school,” he said. “Usually, our lunch sizes are smaller. This filled me up more. It was delicious.”

“I thought it was pretty good,” said Austin Gentner, a 10th-grader. “It’s probably one of the best so far.”

This year, school lunches must meet requirements under the federal Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act.

Now, portion sizes are smaller, more whole grains are used, foods are low in fat and sodium, and meals must include a fruit or vegetable.

These are among the regulations, which became effective this school year.

While some of the regulations have since been temporarily lifted, local schools have found that many students don’t like the changes.

The biggest complaint has been the smaller food portions.

As a result, fewer students are buying lunch.

“There is no point in having all these requirements if they are not going to eat,” said Kate DuBois, business manager of the Lake George school district.

To sell more meals, local schools have sought new ways to make the food appealing.

Lake George, which is selling about 100 fewer lunches per day than last year, wrote letters inviting 50 area restaurants to prepare a lunch. Two responded.

Along with Dunham’s Bay Resort, Richard and Muriel Tasker, owners and chefs of the Raintree Restaurant, agreed to cook a lunch in May.

The chefs from both restaurants are volunteering. They worked with school leaders to develop the menu.

Richards said the smaller meal portions and the limited products available to him made it difficult to follow the regulations.

“I was actually shocked,” Richards said. “They are limited by so much.”

This year, the school began offering samples on days when new meals were introduced. Yet it was still a struggle.

“The hardest part sometimes is to get kids to try it,” said Annette Chamberlain, the school’s food service manager.

This year, the school added a deli section, allowing students to watch as sandwiches are prepared to their liking.

Signs were also put up to remind students they must take a fruit or vegetable, as the regulations require. If students don’t take it, they pay the full price for each product they buy, instead of the reduced price for the meal.

Students must take a fruit or vegetable for the lunch to count as a meal, which allows the school to receive federal reimbursement.

Food service programs rely on the federal reimbursement plus revenue from selling lunches to cover expenses. The school district does not fund the lunch program.

While lunch programs often run a deficit, losses at some schools have been greater this year.

Healthier foods are more expensive. When lunch sales are down, revenue drops, officials say.

At Fort Ann, the school district has hired Chartwells, a food service company, for at least the last eight years to oversee the lunch program. But this year, faced with a projected $15,000 deficit, the company plans to withdraw its contract at year’s end, said Superintendent Maureen VanBuren.

Fort Ann is trying new ways to sell more lunches. The school plans to host a barbecue and a day when lunch will be free, all to entice students, VanBuren said.

“We are seeing more kids bring their lunches and they are far from healthy,” VanBuren said. “That’s the problem. Kids are not used to eating healthy foods. It’s a cultural change.”

At Schuylerville, the elementary/middle school building set up a table in the cafeteria to offer new fruits and vegetables each day this week. The options included sweet potato puffs, fruit salad and brownies made with spinach and blueberries.

Kristy Wilbur, Schuylerville’s food service director, wrote in an email to The Post-Star that the event went better than expected. But it has been a struggle to sell fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

While the portion sizes for fruits and vegetables has increased, that does not translate into students consuming more of them, Wilbur wrote.

“Another struggle has been the requirement to serve a legume weekly,” Wilbur wrote. “We have tried many different recipes, using every type of bean, but our students are definitely not interested. We will keep trying.”

At Lake George, Richards provided the school with the recipe for Jamaican chicken stew, so the meal might return in the future.

The school was able to meet the requirement to serve beans because they were included in the stew.

School officials were pleased students were eating vegetables.

“The kids are eating,” Chamberlain said. “They are eating black beans.”

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. doug900
    Report Abuse
    doug900 - April 28, 2013 9:05 am
    When will schools realize that government guidelines for nutrition are designed to feed agriculture, like the old food pyramid. They have swayed from that slightly, but I still see a bunch of carbs and simple sugar pushed out, as well as sodium. And, fat doesn't make you fat. 60 to 70% of our diets should consist of good fats, not carbs and sugars. Saturated fats are good for you, contrary to our not so intelligent government. 100 years ago, fewer than 1 out of 100 people were obese, and coronary heart disease was unknown, yet the government says remove fat. The fact is, people that have the highest intake of saturated fat, have the lowest heart disease! I know I will be challenged by this statement, but I have proof. Artificial sweeteners are a proven neurotoxin, and high fructose corn syrup is a 20th and 21st century mistake! They are cheap to produce. We are run by marketing, and many things are called safe, so they can make money! GMO's, there's another good one.
  2. MadMan
    Report Abuse
    MadMan - April 28, 2013 6:33 am
    The amount of misinformation in these comments is amazing. Something is wrong, your comment does not make sense. Of course it is the taxpayers problem. When school lunch sales are down the school HAS to subsidize the falling participation. So if the school is selling less lunches, the taxpayers have to make up the difference. I am not saying its a good system. My point is know what you are talking about before jumping to conclusions.
  3. Resident of GF
    Report Abuse
    Resident of GF - April 28, 2013 5:34 am
    agreed. They try to make it appealing and yummy for kids but when you have to cook food for an entire school it can be difficult. I do know, as I stated before, they have a LONG way to go. They are getting better and healthier but they still serve hot dogs, sodium filled french fries, sugar filled yogarts, I could go on and on.
  4. Rob1897
    Report Abuse
    Rob1897 - April 27, 2013 6:50 pm
    I wish my school would make better lunches
  5. something is wrong
    Report Abuse
    something is wrong - April 27, 2013 4:01 pm
    This is not the tax payers problem!
  6. Resident of GF
    Report Abuse
    Resident of GF - April 27, 2013 2:58 pm
    The food at LG school is NOT healthy. At least at the elementary school and I'm sure the HS isn't far off. High sodium, white breads, high sugar content. They have a long way to go.
  7. kakia11
    Report Abuse
    kakia11 - April 27, 2013 8:19 am
    I know that the biggest complaint from my Lake George Elementary student is that the foods that are suppose to be hot are usually cold or still partially frozen. Everything is cheap processed food.
  8. oilheet
    Report Abuse
    oilheet - April 27, 2013 7:52 am
    Yes - just think - without the Federal Government telling us what to eat - we would all be just a bunch of independent thinking, happy slobs.
    Personally - my own kid - has GAINED weight since this another STUPID government initiative has been in effect! He used to eat a school lunch every day and all was well - since this crap is being served - he and his friends skip lunch and PIG OUT when they get home from school, eating anything they can find at that point, because by then - they ARE starving....
    So sick of Government telling us what's best for us!!!


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