September 2019
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BSD Has the Recipe for a Healthy and Efficient Lunch… Start from Scratch.

When Juliana Freese was hired as food service director for the Burrell School District, she faced a formidable challenge: declining participation among students in the lunch program and, consequently, declining revenue.

So she decided to start from scratch.

“My generation grew up on scratch foods,” says Freese, a 1974 Burrell High School graduate. “Today’s generation has not been getting that opportunity. I think scratch cooking is healthier and more efficient.”

That’s why the district hired a chef and began preparing foods from scratch this year – everything from taco meat to Asian chicken salad.

“For example, we’re not bringing in spaghetti sauce in cans – we’re making it,” Freese says. “We’re doing things like chicken salad with craisins and almonds and celery. At the high school, I created a grab-and-go line with specialty wraps.”

Dr. Matthew Conner, the district’s assistant superintendent, says the time had come for the food service program to evolve, in part because of menu changes mandated by federal guidelines.

“The program had been struggling financially because kids weren’t buying lunches. The federal guidelines really tied our hands as to what had to be in the meals,” he says. “And because of the capabilities in our kitchens, we couldn’t do much more than order prepackaged foods and heat them up.”

Conner says that the new approach will both increase revenue and decrease costs for the food service program.

“The food coming in is less expensive because it’s not prepackaged, and the chef can create healthier, better-tasting food that the students are willing to buy,” he says. “The chef is in the high school, and there are cooks at each of the middle school and elementary schools who are putting meals together based on what’s prepared. We’ve streamlined the process.”

Freese, who grew up in the Kinloch section of Lower Burrell, has been encouraged by the reaction from students thus far, although she knows it will take time to win back those who’ve gotten in the habit of bringing their own lunch to school.

“I just want to get more kids to give it a try so they’ll realize the food is good quality, and we’re trying to make it a fun place to come and eat,” she says, noting that price increases in a given school year are dictated by the state. “Even though the federal regulations have created some challenges, I think it’s good to get the students eating healthier foods. You just have to give the kids time to adjust.”

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