LiveWell Northwest Colorado: National School Lunch Program going strong |

LiveWell Northwest Colorado: National School Lunch Program going strong

Kristi Brown/For Steamboat Today

In response to widespread malnutrition among World War II recruits and an abundance of U.S.-produced agricultural products, the U.S. Congress enacted the National School Lunch Act in 1946, with hopes of “strengthening the nation through better nutrition for our school children,” while, at the same time, supporting U.S. farmers through guaranteed purchases of commodity products to use in government programs.

President Harry S. Truman's vision of a “cooperative school lunch in every possible community” has become a reality, with more than 31 million children served daily in the United States.

In the past 70 years, we have moved from using hearty school lunches to add pounds to our undernourished kids to providing low-calorie school lunches to help address the childhood obesity epidemic. More than 100,000 schools around the nation participate in the National School Lunch Program, which now requires that lunches conform to established meal patterns and stringent nutritional standards and still makes use of USDA meat and dairy commodity products.

Local districts are given the autonomy to prepare foods that gratify student preferences, as long as they conform to federal requirements. Local menu entrees run the gamut from trendy, Vietnamese-braised pork and Szechuan chicken stir-fry to traditional kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers and homemade pizza. Salad bars offer a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to students in all three districts. All reimbursable meals include milk.

The cost of school lunch for students varies substantially around the county, from $2.75 at South Routt Elementary to $5 at Steamboat Springs High School. All schools offer discounted and free lunch to families with incomes of less than 185 percent of poverty level.

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Many grant qualification requirements include a minimum free and reduces lunch rate, often greater than 50 percent. In the past, South Routt Elementary received a grant for free fruit and vegetable snacks for all students, and Hayden Valley Elementary qualified as a free summer food site. There are currently no schools in Routt County with a 50 percent free and reduced lunch rate, though the elementary schools in Hayden and South Routt are very close.

Many families who would qualify for free or reduced lunch opt not to apply, either paying full price for meals or sending food from home, fearing the stigma attached to poverty in our society. Families should be reassured that household income data and free and reduced lunch status is protected information, and schools are bound to protect the privacy of students and families who entrust them with this sensitive information.

All families are encouraged to complete the application, whether students plan to eat school lunch or bring lunch from home.

Applications are easy to complete and available on the school district website. Questions should be directed to the district's foodservice director.

Routt County school district food service directors include the following.

• Steamboat Springs School District, director Max Huppert:,

• Hayden School District, director Steve Carlson:,

• South Routt School District, director Susan Hart:,

Kristi Brown, MPH, is the health & wellness coordinator for Hayden and South Routt School Districts, a trustee of Yampa Valley Medical Center and a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition.