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Week highlights morning meal

"What's cooking?" Twice a day, every school day, Blackduck food service director Jo Lange has to answer that question while setting up menus for hundreds of meals every month.1 / 4
There are 720 fresh rolls on that cart being rolled into place by Marilyn Johnson. They're ready to be turned into sandwiches for the noon meal at Blackduck's lunchroom where Johnson is one of the part time food services staff.2 / 4
Dozens of granola bars are loaded into trays by Tracy Schaar, one of three cooks charged with preparing the hundreds of lunch and breakfast meals served daily to Blackduck students from kindergarten through 12th grade.3 / 4
Head cook Rita Frenzel with a tray of pretzel rolls fresh from the oven. Frenzel oversees the work of the other cooks and part-time helpers responsible for getting approximately 12,000 meals ready to serve every month to students in Blackduck.4 / 4

Jo Lange pays attention to the news. She has to and a lot of mothers with youngsters are glad she does. Lange is the food services director for Blackduck schools.

Headlines tell of federal agencies again warning of obesity, advising that there needs to be more fish in the diet, reporting on the latest survey on the necessity of a good breakfast if kids are to learn and even on whether China will increase imports of wheat -- all this is essential information for Lange and her counterparts in schools throughout Minnesota and across the nation.

Just as hot lunch programs supplanted Karo syrup pails as lunch buckets, new programs for school meals have created new appreciation for what is served, how it is served and even when it is offered to students.

During National Breakfast Week, there was added emphasis on the importance of the morning meal, not just for those in lower grades, but on high school students as well. Lange said at a meeting attended by herself and food service directors from other schools in this part of the state, there was renewed emphasis on the need for older students to get their day off to a good start with breakfast. Athletes in particular were pointed out as needing this jump start to an active day.

For youngsters in the elementary grades, the changes have met with approval from teachers. Peggy Eggert stepped out of her first grade classroom long enough to voice her support for giving children a healthy beginning to the school day. "They can go for their meal together and come back ready to learn. It's great."

When Blackduck schools went to a four-day week, breakfast and lunch times became part of the daily schedule for students. Meal times are staggered morning and noon.

"Being on a schedule is really important," said fourth grade instructor Trina Liapis. Of the 26 in her class, at least 23 students are regulars for meals at school, "and a lot of them are 'grazers,' too. If they need a snack to help them study, I believe in it. They do their work and they do it well. This helps them."

Four thousand breakfasts were served in January, more than half at no charge to the student and more than 800 others at a reduced charge. The full price for breakfast is $1.50, a charge set by the district school board. Respecting individual's privacy, those who qualify for free meals or for a reduced charge, go through the same line with other students and later, in her office, Lange uses a computerized record to identify each person served and the charges are automatically calculated. "It's important that no one has to be embarrassed," she said "when conditions make it hard for families to serve the kind of meals we know they'd like to."

The three cooks begin their schedule at six in the morning and part time helpers fill in as needed.

A typical breakfast will include a serving of bread or grain; a protein item which may include a meat substitute, yogurt or cheese; fresh or canned fruit; four ounces of a choice of juice and 8 ounces of milk, either skim, 1 percent or low-fat chocolate. From those categories, students are encouraged to make three choices and at least two.

"Yes, there are requirements," Lange said, "and there are more of them all the time. We have to offer more fresh fruit and vegetables, which is fine for schools where those are grown. We've changed from iceberg lettuce, which is sort of pale, to Romaine just to meet the need for more color in the meal."

"Our kids get a lot of canned items but we're getting more and more that are low salt, which is good," she continued. "By 2020, all salt has to be eliminated. We'll be making the change gradually -- it's already showing up in the commodities we're getting."

Trans fats are being eliminated and saturated fats limited.

Desserts are changing, too. Brownies, cookies and cake pretty much went off the menu three years ago, except for the end-of-the-year picnic the last day of school.

Lange joined the Blackduck district staff seven years ago. She worries about the diet of those she is charged with feeding and asked, if a youngster eats breakfast and lunch at school every day, that covers only eight meals -- what, she wonders, are they eating for the other 13 meals during the week? Beltrami, she's reminded, is one of the poorest counties in Minnesota.