CEP

Free meals for younger grades boosts participation
Posted on 09/26/2017

Free breakfast and lunch is being offered this year to all students, grades pre-K through third, in an effort to help ensure children are receiving the proper nutrition throughout the school day. 

Thus far the number of meals served at Early Childhood, Kindergarten Center, Eugene Field, Lake Road, Oak Grove and O’Neal has increased by over 100 students per day, Chartwells School Dining Services reported during the school board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21. 

“One of our goals here is to increase participation in our school cafeteria lines,” said Rod Priest, R-I assistant superintendent of business. “We do have a lot of kids that bring their lunch to school, which is fine, but we also want to encourage kids to enjoy a nutritional, well-balanced meal at no charge if they don’t have the resources at home.”

Over the summer the district elected to take advantage of the Community Eligibility Program, which the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education rolled out in recent years for high poverty districts to streamline paperwork and eliminate any possible stigma for families. 

Schools can be grouped together and a multiplier is used to determine the identified student population based on the current free and reduced lunch rate. In Poplar Bluff, removing the fourth grade from the elementary configuration caused the ISP to concentrate at the lower grade levels, where children in need tend to be more prevalent, according to officials. 

“We’re dealing with young families just getting started in their careers with entry level jobs,” Priest explained. “Fortunately, by the time the kid gets in upper grades, the free and reduced number declines, which we attribute to families getting more established in their jobs and the community.” 

Efforts are also being made at the Middle School, Junior High and the High School to improve menu choices for students at a cost of $1.55 for breakfast and $2.25 for lunch, or 30 and 40 cents respectively under the National School Lunch Program. Chartwells leads a program called Chef2School during which an executive chef visits dozens of classrooms each month introducing healthy foods to students. 

At Junior High, breakfast participation increased by about 100 meals since last week due to a new ‘grab and go’ offering after first period. The popular second chance breakfast was made available at Senior High beginning last school year. At the Middle School, a cart was placed in the lobby area of the gymnasium containing hot and cold items for bus riders. 

The High School incorporated a made-to-order omelet option during 2016/17, and Middle School and Junior High will soon have fruit smoothie stations made by V8. Chartwells recently submitted a waiver under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act so whole grains in biscuits, noodles, tortillas and pizza crust are no longer required since the product seemed to be impacting participation company-wide. 

“It’s a good thing for parents if they would take advantage of [Chartwells] and not send kids with a bagged lunch, because we offer them all five of the food groups. Each meal includes a meat, grain, fruit, vegetable and dairy,” said Dixie Hardin, food services director. 

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Cutline: Amanda House cooks a made-to-order omelet for a student last week during breakfast service at PBHS.

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