By RACHAEL GRAY
It's always been a challenge for parents to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.
Now, Garden City USD 457 is trying different tips and tricks to get greens, reds and blues into the diets of students.
The cooks and nutrition team for USD 457 have met the challenge with healthier food guidelines, as they have prepared new recipes and serving strategies to ensure students aren't just throwing the produce away.
At Gertrude Walker Elementary School, Roberta Hernandez, head cook, is helping her team be creative with recipes. Hernandez often uses Mexican and Hispanic influences in the food.
They serve jicama with chili pepper and lime seasoning, grill onions and peppers for fajitas, and make pico de gallo, guacamole and jalapeÃ±os.
Hernandez also serves pinto beans with cilantro, onion and tomatoes.
"I think a lot of it is what they're used to eating at home," she said.
Some of the popular produce-based dishes are the fruit salad that includes mango, papaya, pineapple, strawberries and kiwi.
A similar fruit salad was served Friday morning at the school. Students got to choose from cereal, an egg and ham burrito with salsa, fruit and milk.
Hernandez and Johnson say the cooks are creative when they find students aren't eating a lot of a certain dish.
In order to get students to eat pears, they put lime jello on them.
"It's something different. And we try to make our salad bar as pretty as possible with tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower — all those colors. You eat with your eyes," Hernandez said.
Tracy Johnson, USD 457 director of food services, said although there is some food waste, there isn't as much now as there was at the beginning of the year.
"I think it's going great. We have some really creative cooks who are adding twists to our older recipes," Johnson said.
What has changed in school nutrition is the district must serve one-half cup of dark green vegetables per week, three-fourths to one-and-a-fourth cups per week of red and orange vegetables, one-half cup of beans or peas, one-half cup of starchy vegetables per week and a cup of additional vegetables per week.
Meals at the kindergarten through fifth-grade level must stay between 550 and 650 calories, and between 750 and 850 calories at the high school.
At the beginning of the school year, there was some public concern that students, such as student athletes, weren't getting enough to eat. Johnson said those students are taking advantage of the a la carte and vending options, such as salads and sandwiches, that have become popular.
She said at least 50 to 60 students daily are getting food out of the vending machines.
Johnson said the black bean corn salsa has been popular, as well, in addition to the white chili and pasta bake.
In the younger grades, grant projects such as Power Panthers and a grant that supports giving fruits and vegetables as snacks has helped expose the youngsters to fresh produce.
The fruit and vegetable grant allows Buffalo Jones and Victor Ornelas elementary schools to serve produce to students twice a week. The food has to be in its purest state, but the schools can use fat-free ranch dressing with the vegetables.
The grant program is in its second year.
In the lower grades, fruit sundaes with fresh fruit and yogurt have been popular, Johnson and Hernandez said. Other popular items include the jalapeÃ±os and guacamole. The spicier foods are popular menu items.
Often, the cooks in the schools share recipes or tell each other what's working and what's not in getting students to eat fruits and vegetables.
"They have managers meetings and will share tips. They're not afraid to share ideas and try them in their kitchens," Johnson said.
Hernandez and Johnson say some of the students may not be exposed to fruits and vegetables at home, as packaged, frozen food in bulk is the lowest cost option for many families.
"We're happy that they can be exposed to this food. Not a lot of them get fruits and vegetables at home because of the cost of produce or the time it takes to prepare it," Johnson said.
School exposure is key, she said.
"The more we can expose them at school, the better chance they'll eat them out of school," Johnson said.
"If you start when they're young, they'll carry it on," she said.