Brittany Johnson, a sixth-grader at Greenacres Middle School in the Central Valley School District, said she usually brings her lunch to school, but when she works as a lunchroom helper, she likes the pizza the school offers.
“I really like the pizza,” she said. “I like the pizza better now, because it has cheese on the crust.”
She’s comparing the new pizza served at the district to the pizza served last year, when it was square pieces of commodity pizza.
Now, the item comes in triangular slices, has a whole-grain crust and is lower in fat.
It’s just a small slice of the changes the district is making in its lunch and breakfast programs.
“My goal was to increase the excitement of the breakfast and lunch program,” said Denice Whittall, nutrition services supervisor for the district.
When Whittall, a registered dietician, came to the district in July, she began to change the items students get for their meals. She increased the variety of breakfast options and moved away from pre-packaged foods.
The district had been rotating through a three-week cycle of lunch items which Whittall immediately changed.
“I’m not a fan of cycle menus,” she said.
Some of the changes include increased variety for both breakfast and lunch, two choices for breakfast, increased choices at lunchtime to six at the secondary schools, a new pizza program at the secondary schools, trial breakfast programs at Greenacres Middle School and University High School that offers a variety of cold choices and one hot choice a day and monthly promotional days in the elementary schools such as smile day, shape day, Super Bowl day and winter day.
The students now have the opportunity to provide Whittall with feedback about the meals.
She said the elementary students have been writing her letters and she writes the students back and sends them a snack.
The changes also have allowed her to test new food products such as different shapes of chicken nuggets and tiny bananas the size of fingers.
“I get to play with fun food all the time,” she said.
Nutrition services in the district has been at the top of the district’s Parent Advisory Committee’s radar screen for a while, according to Melanie Rose, spokeswoman for the district. The group wanted to move away from pre-packaged foods and had the hopes the program would be self-sustaining.
Rose said the school board allocates $300,000 of the local school programs and operations levy for nutrition services annual operating subsidy.
“At this point in the 2009-’10 school year, our projections indicate the program will end the year operating within the established $300,000 maximum,” she said.
The changes have also increased the amount of meals served to the students.
Whittall said the program has seen in increase of 44,724 breakfasts and lunches served to students as compared to this time last year – an 8 percent increase.
“Seeing people get excited about the menus is great for me,” Whittall said.