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School food service director shares insights on student nutrition

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS – Marshalltown Schools Food Service Director Lynn Large shares an update with the school board Monday.

The last school board meeting before students return to class included an in-depth presentation about the district’s food service department.

That department and its director, Lynn Large, are responsible for ensuring around 5,000 kids are fed nearly every week day for nine months out of the year.

“We really are encouraging fruits and vegetables at meal time, and that equals tons of nutrition for learning minds,” Large said.

Another responsibility of Marshalltown Schools food service has been ensuring as many children as possible get steady, nutritious meals during the summer break from school. With around seven out of 10 Marshalltown students qualified for the federal Free and Reduced-price Lunch program, the free summer meals are a way to keep kids’ bellies full until school starts again.

Over the last several weeks, the summer meals program provided more than 23,000 lunches and a combined total of more than 13,000 breakfasts and snacks to kids.

T-R FILE PHOTO — Children pick up a free lunch during the summer meals program provided by Marshalltown Schools.

“These numbers are up from last summer, so I was excited to see the good participation this summer,” Large said.

She also updated the board on 2018 school year food service data.

The district’s food service employees dished out about 667,000 lunches over in that time, along with 281,000 breakfasts. One datapoint Large emphasized was how many servings of fruits and vegetables were provided — nearly 1.2 million.

Large, a dietician, said she places great focus on getting fresh fruits and vegetables in front of district students, whether as part of their meals or as snacks.

“We provide a little nutrition education that goes along with the snack,” she said. “We’re just trying to educate kids about how do you pick it out at the grocery store, why is it good for you and some fun facts about what they’re eating.”

In 2018, the district applied for and received a $152,000 Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, the district qualifies to receive money from the Department of Defense, which provided $100,000 for the district to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Marshalltown Schools is eligible for the Department of Defense money because of its participation in the USDA National School Lunch Program.

Large said the federal funding helps expose low-income students to more fresh fruits and vegetables than they may normally get. That exposure, in turn, is meant to help students learn healthy eating habits that last into adulthood.

School board Vice President Janelle Carter asked about the success of getting vegetables to the kids.

“Do they eat the vegetables?” Carter said to Large.

Large said the students are more open to trying new vegetables than expected and many at least give the foods a try.

She said her goals for coming school years include increasing the number of students who take advantage of school breakfasts and continuing nutrition education outreach to students.

School board member Ben Fletcher asked how Large intends to increase the number of students eating school breakfast. Large said she is talking to principals about maximizing the amount of time allowed for breakfast in the morning, as well as looking into better informing parents of the meal opportunity for their children.

“We really just want kids to be able to make informed choices based on their goals for their own nutrition, and also to inspire them to eat healthy foods,” Large said.

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Contact Adam Sodders

at 641-753-6611 or

asodders@timesrepublican.com