The challenge to get kids away from fast food and other unhealthy offerings seems to be a never-ending one. It’s no different for the school lunch program in the Dell Rapids School District.
Deb Emmert, food service director in the district, says it’s a constant battle. But with some unique approaches, she says they’re making an impact on students in Dell Rapids.
Like other communities around South Dakota, Dell Rapids takes advantage of the local produce around the area in a farm-to-table program. Emmert says the district features a different food each month. This fall, local sweet corn will be on the menu.
Additional foods such as watermelon, cantaloupe, beets, eggplants, sweet potatoes and butternut squash have been used in recent years as the school year progresses.
The district also sends home a recipe with each student so they can use the various vegetables at home.
“We try and find local produce. Sometimes it’s a little challenging, but we can find it,” Emmert said. “We do it as much as possible because we really try to get the kids to eat a lot of nutritious foods and get them to try something different.”
Emmert also speaks to the elementary students in Dells each year and takes them through the process of food production. This year, it’s green beans, and she is going to help students plant seeds and watch them grow all the way up to the table for a meal. There is a booklet that accompanies the presentation, called Mr. Green Bean.
The elementary school in Dells also has a small greenhouse next to it, and Emmert said they utilize that as well. Last year she gave the students tomato seed packets that were planted in the spring in the greenhouse. By the time school let out for the summer, the plants were mature enough to take home and plant in their own gardens.
“The kids really like it, when they can watch something grow, and then it ends up on their plate,” she said. “We’ve had fun with it with many different vegetables.”
The Mr. Green Bean project is just the start for this upcoming school year. Emmert said July is the busiest time of the year for her staff as they’re working on food preparations for the entire school year. Menus for August and September are being finalized, and every recipe has to be approved by the USDA.
“There’s a lot more paperwork involved in this than what people think,” she said. “We’re busy right now, trying to have all of our recipes ready to go through May.”
Emmert is getting it all done, too, shorthanded. She is in her seventh year with the school district and is looking to add to her staff as the first day of school is fast approaching on Aug. 22.
There are two part-time positions open, one in the high school and one as a floater between high school and elementary school.
“We can be flexible with that,” Emmert said of scheduling. “We sometimes have stay-at-home moms come in and work where their children are at, so we can accommodate them in that way.”
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