“This summer, we, along with the Board of Education and the superintendent, knew there were new guidelines to be met,” said Austintown Food Service director Tascin Brooks.
She said Ohio Senate Bill 210 went into effect on July 1 this year and set the guidelines for size and nutritional value on school lunches and snacks. As an example, for the schools’ snack bars, the limit on calories was 150 for elementary, 180 for middle schools and 200 for high schools.
For Brooks, the challenge was there on day one. She had worked in kitchens in Austintown and had served as the food service secretary-manager over the summer. With the start of the new school year, Brooks took on the position of food service supervisor, which meant she now had to oversee the high school, middle school, and all five elementary buildings.
“Since I started in the kitchen, I understand how things work,” she said.
Prior to the start of this school year, Brooks said she met with all seven kitchen managers, each from one of Austintown’s school buildings. They sat down and went over the guideline changes and how they could provide a menu to meet the new criteria for healthier foods.
“The kitchen managers are invaluable,” Brooks said. “They know and see what the kids eat each day.”
To meet the guidelines meant letting go of some popular choices from past years. One of those was French fries.
“Four years ago I was the fry cook at Fitch,” Brooks said. “I made 240 pounds of French fries every day.”
Now, under the new guidelines, French fries are gone. In fact, potatoes are only permitted in a small serving of about a quarter cup a week. Brooks said the younger kids at the elementaries are liking the new choices. At the middle school level, it's a toss up.
“I like the new menu, sometimes,” said eighth-grader Anthony Stiles.
At the high school level, Brooks said the kids are really missing their fries. Brooks said they will have to get used to not having them. She did say the younger ones coming up through the system will be used to it when they hit high school, but for now, high schoolers aren’t fond of losing some old, not-so-healthy favorites.
One thing Brooks said is helping the district is having a common menu in all seven buildings. She said it will make ordering easier and will save the district money in the long run.
The biggest changes that students are seeing this year are more fruits and vegetables, at least 51 percent whole grains and snack cart that has been revamped to include choices such as fruits and yogurt.
“Now that we have taken all the bad stuff off the menu, we can start adding some healthy choices,” she said.
The district is also keeping the health kick for their district-wide breakfast menu. Brooks has joined the Lake-to-River Co-op which provides fresh fruits and vegetables from local Ohio farmers.
“The quality is absolutely fabulous,” she said.
She is working hard to streamline the district and is keeping in mind that the two new schools will be replacing the four off-campus schools someday. By keeping a district-wide menu, the transition for food service will be smoother when the new schools come online.
While Brooks’ department is meeting the new food guidelines, she said the older kids are still craving their junk food. She said she has driven by Dunkin Donuts in the morning and sees student after student after student in the parking lot.
As for the future, Brooks said there are more changes coming. At Fitch, she is looking into adding a coffee bar, a salad bar, and a frozen yogurt machine. She is also keeping an eye on the next federal and state guideline changes and has a good idea what is coming.
“The next big thing will be sodium content,” she said. “Salt will soon become a thing of the past.”
One other issue that she is working on right now involves getting with the PTA and discussing food sharing. In the past, a child would have a birthday and bring in cupcakes to share with the class. Brooks said that needs to stop to help prevent allergic reactions.
“It also tells kids that not all things have to be celebrated with food,” she said. “As a district, we are concerned and are trying to make a difference.”
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Lynda Livermore and Cindy Chine prepare the chicken bags for the AMS lunch period on Thursday, Oct. 6. The two women said they are having no problem meeting new USDA guidelines for healthier lunches.