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Tiger Talk: Here's what's cookin' at PR-B

There’s a lot that’s been “cooking” in the Pine River-Backus School kitchen in the past few months!

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act has required that all school food service operations re-evaluate their menus and make changes. As part of the process, we did calorie counting, checked to ensure we had met our vegetable sub-group requirements and shopped for whole grain products.

Now, we begin checking that our sodium levels are in the target range. First target: lunch K-5th grade, 1,230 mg; 6-8th grades, 1,360 mg; 9-12th grades, 1,420 mg. Additional target ranges over the next 10 years will reduce sodium levels a whopping 53 percent.

New government-set policies regarding foods sold in schools will begin in the 2014 school year. However, PR-B is immediately beginning to make those changes to be in compliance.

Snack items must have fewer than 200 calories per item including accompaniments; entree items, fewer than 350 calories including accompaniments. Whole grains must be used and sodium and fat requirements must also be met.

Also taking effect in the 2014 school year are additional changes to breakfast. These changes have been hard, but are also exciting and provide positive changes for the benefit of all, especially our students.

September marked Farm to School Month. For several years, PR-B has worked diligently to implement garden products. We have made use of both our school garden and local farmers.

My biggest purchases usually are from Farmer Dave. When Farmer Dave arrives, we gather to see what he has brought that particular week. It’s always neat to think that I am able, with his help and good deals, to purchase the same products that he sells to restaurants in the Twin Cities.

When the sixth-graders bring in produce from the school garden, they are excited to know that the whole school will be eating what they have gathered.

Recently, as I walked the great hall I smelled the campari tomatoes, onions and fresh basil that my cooks were making into sauce. I heard, “Sure smells good, what’s cookin’?”

Yellow pear tomatoes and cucumbers on the veggie bar bring a lot of color and appeal. The fresh cilantro will make a wonderful fresh salsa. Creamy cucumbers will go out next week.

Working with local produce brings out our creativity and, I believe, the colors and smells do entice us all to eat healthier! The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act did receive some bad press, but the changes have truly been positive.

We are all moving forward and bringing a healthier plate to our students.

(Jill Blanchard is Pine River-Backus School food service director.)