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Clinton High School Cook Manager Debbie Soenksen spreads batter for pumpkin bars in a baking sheet.

Samantha Pidde/Clinton Herald
The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

By Samantha Pidde

Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — March’s National Nutrition Month’s theme is “Eat Right.” Jeff Weaver, food service director for the Clinton School District, said he and his staff try to ensure that the more than 3,200 students who eat at the various school buildings do in fact “eat right.”

Weaver said nutrition is an important consideration when planning a school lunch menu. He said the school is required to follow guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture. Weaver said these guidelines focus mainly on calories, total amount of fat, saturated fat, fiber, sodium and other nutritional concerns.

“I don’t think our guidelines are really any more strict, for the most part, than the normal guidelines that anyone should be following on a daily basis,” said Weaver, adding, “We try very hard to meet those needs and been fairly successful and able to meet those needs.”

Weaver said the meals planned do have some set structure on what types of foods should be served per day. A typical lunch planned for students includes two ounces of meat and two- to three servings of grain or bread products. They also are required to offer approximately half a cup of fruit and half a cup of vegetables every day. A serving of fluid milk also is required. The district’s schools all offer breakfast as well. Weaver said this meal consists of at least four items including: a fruit component, milk component, bread component and a choice of another bread component or a one-ounce meat component.

“It’s important for us to be feeding, serving the foods that kids like to eat. We like to provide a wide variety of foods. There’s always going to be something that someone’s not going to like during the day, but we want to provide that variety of foods during the month so they have the opportunity to have their favorites as well as to try different foods,” said Weaver.

He said they try to maintain a balance between foods that are good for the students and foods they like.

“We don’t necessarily serve a food specifically for nutrients. We’re looking for students to eat foods and become familiar with foods they eat. And by eating a variety of foods, they’re going to be getting the various nutrients that they need everyday,” he said.

Weaver said food service workers find ways to give students good food choices that are healthier for them as well. One way Weaver said they accomplish this in Clinton High School is by cooking all fried foods, such as French fries in oil that is 100 percent soy bean. He said while this oil needs to be maintained and changed more often, using soy bean oil reduces the fat associated with fried foods. He said he sees students choose healthier choices on their own as well. Weaver said he has noticed a large increase in fruits taken by students.

Weaver said food service workers spend a good portion of their time choosing healthy menus students will like. His office is filled with books and papers used for nutrient analysis for all the foods they develop into menus. Weaver said they are putting this information in a computer data base to be used as nutrient analysis guidelines they can follow. Weaver said this optional process also is helpful when representatives from the state come to do a review, look at foods being served and calculate how well they are meeting the guidelines. Weaver said during these reviews, a nutrient analysis can be used to justify why certain foods were served.

Weaver said every month the cook managers sit down with him and have a meeting to discuss various things, including the monthly menu.

“They let me know the items that the students are asking for. They let me know what has been really well received by the students, other stuff that maybe hasn’t been well received. We try to formulate that into some kind of menu for the kids every month,” said Weaver.

Weaver said the school district is lucky that all of their schools, except Lincoln High School, have production kitchens where the food is made. He said the more than 60 food service workers try to provide a menu students will like.

“And we have some excellent and wonderful cooks that have not only talent, but they put a lot of love in their food,” said Weaver.