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Student at Maple Elementary having lunch

Food for Thought

SPS menu choices are more than just an exercise in variety—they represent an investment in the overall health of our students and increase opportunities for success in school.

BY CHAKRIS KUSSALANANT AND BRIAN RICHARDSON
 

 

Few things bring a smile to students’ faces as lunchtime. Regardless of grade level or age, lunch means a time to take a break from school, connect with friends, and recharge.

The recent pandemic limited Nutrition Services either due to remote learning needs or supply chain constraints. During the winter of the 2023-24 school year, Springfield Public Schools (SPS) was able to return to a robust set of food choices for students, and the new menus offered even more exciting and nutritious options than ever before.

The change comes in the nick of time, as the district currently serves on average, 12,300-12,900 free breakfasts and 24,000-24,500 free lunches over the course of a week across 20 schools.

“It’s important that our students have a choice, a voice in how they nourish their bodies, which is why offering a variety of choices daily is so valuable,” says Heather Murray, nutrition services supervisor.  “Providing a variety of choices that are nutritious and delicious helps students learn how to make healthy choices during the school day, leading to healthier choices outside the school day as well.”

The District’s new expanded menu is at once a statement of giving students personal control, helping growing minds, promoting nutritional habits, supporting food sustainability, reducing waste, and supporting local farms.


Nutrition Services by the Numbers

48

Total nutrition services staff at Springfield Public Schools

9%

Total increase in breakfast program participation since april 2023

12-13k

average number of breakfasts served every week at springfield public schools

Moreover, there has been an increase of 9% participation in the breakfast program, and a 5% increase in the lunch program since April of 2023. According to Murray, the new choices have sparked greater interest and participation in meal options.

And while most new options are meant primarily for the little ones in the district, the choices are a far cry from old snacks and basic main meals.

“We are serving cutie mandarins now—I certainly did not get those when I was a kid,” says Mary Knight, nutrition services lead at Maple Elementary. “We are bringing kiwi. There is talk of bringing in jicama with fruit, but we are trying to develop a low sodium tajin alternative.”

In addition, children are being offered veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and cucumbers, alongside new rainbow carrots. Students can pick-up fruit like apples and bananas, but the District is also working with local farms to introduce Asian pears, a completely new offering in the District’s menu. Middle school and high school students can look forward to yogurt-based fruit parfaits and taco salads.

Nutrition Services Specialist Tracie Harness works closely with farms throughout Lane County to find the best produce and exciting new choices for all students in the District. SPS works with Wild Child Farms, Riverbend Farms, Camas Swale Farm, and our SPS Youth Transition Farm.

In addition, Nutrition Services works with Miffy’s, a local, woman-owned business that produces gluten-free muffin mix which can be incorporated in a wide variety of recipes.

“A lot of our foods focus on what is made at home,” explains Harness. “So we take them and make them fit our nutrition guidelines.”

For many students, Nutrition Services staff are the first point of contact with the district.  

“As a district we are fortunate to be able to serve meals to all students, at no cost to those students or families. This includes both breakfast and lunch daily,” says Murray. “Along with providing those nutritious meals, our goal is ensuring students feel welcomed with that same compassion, care, kindness and positivity, setting the stage for students to finish out their day at their best.”