What’s in your student’s school lunch? Spokane Public Schools works to make meals healthier

SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane Public Schools is aiming to make school lunches healthier and still taste delicious.

The district’s nutrition services director Doug Wordell says it’s serving food with little to no fillers in it.

The district’s contract with its beef and chicken vendors expired recently, so it came time for the district to figure out what was next. There are several steps SPS has to go through before picking companies to buy its food from.

“This is not the school lunch you would’ve seen 10 or 20 years ago,” said Wordell.

School lunches have evolved over time. Students now have a variety of salads to pick from as we as different meals to look forward to. Wordell, as a dietitian as well, says they try to make sure their beef and chicken have very little, if at all, any fillers in them.

The beef schools serve is 100 percent beef, Wordell said. The hotdogs are all beef, too.

“No nitrates, no fillers. We’ve tried to reduce those additives. We want to get as clean as food as we can into our students,” Wordell said.

Fillers can mean a bunch of different things. Wordell says it could be seasoning, flavoring, including salt and pepper. It also means soy additives.

“As a dietitian, I’m not afraid of soy. It’s actually a great protein, a great source, but we decided many people are allergic to soy. So, for our hamburger patty, which is important, if you’re allergic to soy, you can’t have a hamburger patty. We went with 100 percent all-beef hamburger patty,” he said.

As for the chicken, Wordell said there are some fillers as some of it gets breaded or has whole muscle.

“We have some that have some fillers, but there’s no soy in our chicken. So, we looked at a product that’s better for our kids,” he added.

The district has approximately 30,000 students. Wordell says that equates to about four million meals served in a school year. He says they normally go through 100,000 pounds of cheese, 130,000 pounds of beef and more than 100,000 pounds of chicken. As it went through the process of looking for vendors to contract with, the district has to figure out a place that’s cost-efficient and tastes good.

It figured out the “taste good” part by getting help from the people who have to eat the food every day: students.

“We have student taste testers. So, we had culinary students from our NewTech culinary program taste test both our chicken products and our beef products to help select the vendor we chose,” Wordell said.

The district ended up contracting with the same two national vendors it has in the past: Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation for chicken and JTM Provisions for beef. Students said those companies’ food tasted the best after trying other vendors.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is try to make the nutritious choice an easy choice. So, all of our entrees, good choices: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk to choose from,” Wordell said.

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