Nutrition enhancement is among one of Charleston County School District's (CCSD) top priorities for the new school year.
CCSD's mission in the kitchen is to implement even greener selections than years past. The Office of Nutrition Services will be intertwining meals with clean labels that are made from scratch along with their customary cafeteria options.
Last year, CCSD's elementary schools substituted regular fries for a healthier, low-sodium french fries. This year, students can expect to see alternatives like vegetables, such as collards, more regularly on the menu.
In addition, CCSD's cafeterias will feature a "Harvest of the Month," highlighting a specific fruit or vegetable grown in South Carolina. August's theme will be peaches, September will be okra, October will be sweet potatoes, November will be apples and December will be collards, according to CCSD's dietitian Kerrie Hollifield.
"I always say, it's only going to be nutritious if the child actually eats the fruit or vegetable," Hollifield said.
Although the district requires cafeteria management to follow some specific recipes, managers will now be given leniency to create and promote their own recipes too. Hollifield says students can expect new signature recipes on their menu, like tomato-basil soup and hand-scratch granola.
The district also plans on hosting the "Great Greens Harvest" and the "Sweet Potato Harvest" with their nonprofit partner Green Heart Project, which will help enrich schools' gardens. CCSD is also currently applying for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-School grant to help boost nutritional value across the board.
The farm-to-table experience isn't the only nutrition experiment that CCSD is testing. For students who have medical documentation, there will be allergy-free alternatives, such as gluten-free grains, soy and lactose-free milk, all from locally-grown produce.
"I think with a school district that is as large as us, it presents it's own challenges, but we're so excited to be able to work through those challenges and overcome them and get the best for our students," Hollifield added.
Out of the 50,000 students that CCSD serves, approximately 52% will receive free and reduced breakfast and lunch for the school year. For those who paid last year and carried a balance, the district elected to forgive the total debt (more than $100,000) as a budget write-off, according to Nutrition Services executive director Walter Campbell.
As far as meal pricing goes, there are no changes from last year's free and reduced costs for students and adults. For exact dollar amounts, visit ccsdschools.com/Page/278.
Aside from managing the federal programs for breakfast, lunch and summer meals, Nutrition Services coordinates the Mid-Morning Snack Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Head Start and Early Head Start Meals Program, as well as one of the largest supper programs in the state.
In terms of the Nutrition Services' department depth, there are several existing vacancies with the school year underway. Campbell estimated staff is 2% short out of their 466 employees district-wide.
"We're in pretty good shape," Campbell said. "It shouldn't impact our operations as far as opening and serving kids."
To view the menus being offered in all CCSD schools, visit ccsdschools.com/schoolmenus.