One first-grader chowed down on broccoli and peas. A fourth-grader chomped on a slice of watermelon. These students were not forced to eat their fruits and veggies. Instead they were given a choice.
All USD 473 schools — from Blue Ridge Elementary School to Chapman High School — contracted Opaa! for their lunches at the start of this school year.
In response to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, USD 473 Superintendent Lacee Sell, chose Opaa as the district’s food service provider. The act is the first major, nationwide change to school lunches in 15 years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Opaa employs nutrition specialists who make sure all menus are within government guidelines. The specialists develop their menus based on both the government guidelines and students’ popularity. For example, at Blue Ridge, students liked the chicken patties so much that every Wednesday is now “chicken patty day.” Opaa cooks and bakes from scratch and utilizes local farms and dairies for fresh fruits, vegetables and milk.
Shane Sundahl, vice principal of CHS, said multiple factors influenced the district to select Opaa as its food service provider.
“It was an opportunity to streamline our lunches when it comes to finances, but also when it comes to the offerings and choices that each school is able to have,” Sundahl said. “Opaa is a big proponent for getting morale up as far as students wanting to eat because there’s food that is made from scratch with fresh products and there’s a lot of options to be able to choose from.”
Each day at Blue Ridge, students are offered the choice of a hot lunch or a cold salad, and they also get to choose whatever they want from a fruit and veggie bar. At the high school, students are offered the option of a hot lunch, a salad bar or a specialty bar, which offers students the option to “build” their own burger, taco or pizza.
“Like a good education, the students deserve to have a good lunch program that keeps their bodies going and keeps their minds going in a positive direction so I think being able to have that choice is important,” Sundahl said.
Two head cooks, Jennifer Tiller of CHS, and Nancy Hunt-Heideman of Blue Ridge, said the new lunch program has expanded their workload.
“We’ve got good cooks. They’re taking pride in their kitchens,” Food Service Director Vicky Spencer said. “The love for the kids was always there. I don’t think that’s been lacking in any of the cooks, really. It’s just a time to settle in and get down the routines.”
Spencer said the cooks are in a transition phase.
“With the fast pace of hurrying around trying to get stuff done, because of the more choices and more things to prepare, it was scary,” Hunt-Heideman said. “I was by myself. They’d just started hiring the school’s helpers. So now, it’s nice to have a helper. That’s helped tremendously. We’re still moving, moving, moving, but it’s like, ‘Yes.’”
Luan Sparks, principal of Enterprise Elementary School and Blue Ridge Elementary School, said she is amazed at how positively the students have reacted to the new plan.
“If someone would have told me my kids would eat like this, with this kind of a format, I don’t think that I would have believed it,” Sparks said. “It’s one of those deals that, as a principal, you have a gullet but when it’s fresh, and they’re picking it, it’s a whole mind thing.”
From Blue Ridge to CHS, the consensus is the same: students like Opaa
Weston Langvardt, second-grader at Blue Ridge, said his favorite menu items are popcorn chicken salad and turkey chef salad, while Abigail Hawes and Keana Ewers, both third graders at Blue Ridge, said they are partial to the pizza, which Opaa serves them each Friday.
The pizza is cooked on a whole grain crust, according to Blue Ridge’s Opaa menu.
Christina Hoffman, junior at CHS, said she is a fan of Opaa.
“I like the new variety and the options that we have with them, because it’s not like your assigned that this is all you’re going to eat,” she said. “You actually get to choose what you want so it depends on the mood you’re in for that day. You can choose whatever. It’s great.”