The Cherokee County School District’s (CCSD) School Nutrition program serves 5 million meals every school year — and those meals have come a long way since your childhood!
Gone are monochromatic trays of reheated pizza, corn and fries, and in their place are award-winning mosaics of colorful, fresh ingredients.
The most recent honor earned by CCSD School Nutrition, the Georgia Golden Radish Award, honors excellence in providing fresh, locally grown produce and ingredients in student meals; promoting the importance of farm-to-school food sourcing, and participating in school garden projects. CCSD is one of only 34 Georgia school districts to earn the honor the past two years.
CCSD’s Farm to School initiative, including its strong partnerships with organizations such as the Cherokee County Farm Bureau, has influenced the improvement in its school menus. Another significant change has been to factor in students’ dietary restrictions, whether due to allergies, culture or religious beliefs.
Over the past six years, the program, led by Executive Director Tina Farmer, has initiated customer-friendly enhancements, such as MealViewer To Go. This system offers an app and website through which students and parents can see photos of upcoming menu items, as well as nutritional information, including allergens. School nutrition staff invest considerable time logging this data to provide students and parents with more information.
Another upgrade has been the focus on diversifying menus with student and parent input. CCSD has expanded and updated its menu through feedback from student taste tests; with focus groups, including the high school delegates to the school board, middle and high school family and consumer science classes and school gardening clubs; as well as pop-up sampling events in cafeterias. Based on student input, more vegetarian entrees joined the menu, as have more global flavor profiles. Popular additions this school year include pot stickers with sweet Thai chili sauce, seasoned meatball and rice bowls and margherita pizza.
Last school year, the program introduced a popular new feature: special Heritage Month menus, offered one day each month, to celebrate a different culture’s cuisine. These menus are developed by CCSD’s own culinary specialist. A pilot program also is underway to begin serving Halal menu items for students who follow Muslim dietary restrictions.
Every day, students choose from a selection of lunch entrees – with more than 30 choices monthly – which always include vegetarian and nut-free options. Each entree is paired with several sides of fruits or vegetables, including daily fresh side choices. Breakfast menus are stacked with healthy choices, too. At both meals, there’s a choice of low-fat milks and 100% fruit juices.
CCSD’s School Nutrition team does all of this while keeping prices affordable: breakfast is $1.60 for all grades; lunch is $2.45 for elementary students, $2.70 for middle and high school students. Families who need assistance are encouraged to apply for federally funded free and reduced-price meals. Donations also are accepted from the community to pay students’ unpaid meal charges. The donation form is at https://bit.ly/CCSDgive.
– Barbara P. Jacoby serves as chief communications officer for the Cherokee County School District, and is a CCSD parent with four children.