Nutrition is a taboo word for many kids.
But for the Littleton Public Schools summer free lunch program, the word has gained some new meanings.
“We are trying to balance health and nutrition with what (the kids) will eat,” said Littleton Public Schools food service director Jeanne King. “And that is not an easy task.”
LPS has offered the summer free lunch program for more than 15 years, with King overseeing each year. With the growing government push toward nutritious foods such as vegetables, King has had to make difficult decisions to satisfy government requirements and children’s tastes.
Each meal offers five components: meat or meat alternative, bread, fruit, veggies and milk. A complete nutrition analysis is available online for each meal.
“Fifteen years ago we would make everything from scratch,” King said. “We eventually moved to processed food because that’s what (kids) eat, and we now are moving back to more freshly prepared food.”
The free lunch program is available to any kid ages 1 to 18. There are no qualifications, no questions asked, King said. The program’s goal is simple – to feed as many kids as possible.
On an average day, the program feeds between 150 and 300 kids per site, ranging from families to day cares. The two host sites are Centennial Academy and Field Elementary.
“There are 15,000 kids in the district, and we advertise to schools every year,” King said. “You’d think we’d have a bigger turnout. Even though it’s free, people have the notion that it’s only for kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch during the school year.”
Kitchen staff member Simone Olson believes more children are becoming interested in healthier options, particularly vegetables. A main factor is the addition of foods with different colors, she said.
“I spiked up the salads for the summer, adding things like radishes, celery and red cabbage,” she said. “The kids actually take them now.”
The added emphasis on nutrition has not gone unnoticed.
Stephanie Enriquez has frequented the free lunch program with her two children, ages 7 and 5, about twice a week for the past three years. She has been consistently pleased not only with the quality of the food but with the growing focus on healthy foods.
“My kids are not only getting good food, but nutritious food,” she said.
And the kids are satisfied as well.
Maria Gordo, mother of five, brings her kids to the free lunch program every day. When she mentioned that she thinks her kids enjoy the food, two of her children simultaneously piped up, “I love it.”
Gordo added, “They always ask me, ‘What’s going to be served tomorrow?’”