In 2010, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed by First Lady Michelle Obama in an effort to reduce childhood obesity and increase the nutritional value of school lunches. However, this Act added many requirements and restrictions to school lunches throughout the nation, which made the preparation of school lunches much more difficult.
Mrs. Jennifer Wagner has been the Nutrition Director at Potosi Schools for the past three years. Before working for the Potosi School District, she spent twelve years working at Orchard Manor as a cook and baker. She had the opportunity of coming to our school with our newly renovated cafeteria, thanks to the referendum that was also used to build the auditorium.
The new cafeteria allowed Mrs. Wagner to design the lunch program the way she wanted. Over her three years here, she has been able to make tremendous improvements to the kitchen and the food that is served. She has been able to purchase three new ovens, new lunch trays for the students, a new dishwasher, a Steam Combi oven, and a more efficient Point of Sale(POS) system. In the near future, she plans to update the freezer.
Mrs. Wagner also serves on the Wisconsin School Nutrition Association Board as the Marketing chair. In March she will be traveling to the Legislative Action Committee conference in Washington D.C. to express concerns about the rules and regulations on the school lunch programs.
I sat down with Mrs. Wagner to learn how she budgets costs and how she handles the rules and regulations to make the lunch program successful. Mrs. Wagner does not get to determine the price of any food items for students. All lunch costs are done through a Paid Lunch Equity(PLE) tool, which is mandated by the Department of Public Instruction(DPI). All lunch prices are the same; however, the program receives reimbursement on all student meals. The reimbursed money she gets back from the government is used to purchase higher quality food. Within the school’s lunch program, she has to budget for shipping and trucking costs, wages of employees, equipment, and benefits.
When asked about her opinion on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and all the requirements that go along with it, she said “I believe that every day you get a well rounded and healthy meal. However, these rules and requirements have made it very difficult to prepare meals for the students.” She also said, “I do not believe that school lunches are the reason behind childhood obesity.”
I also asked, “How do you make school lunches appealing for the students?” She explained, “When I order food, I try to choose options that I believe kids will eat, but still staying within the health requirements.” She allows students to have multiple options of fruit and vegetables to choose from, instead of just putting out one option that all the students are required to take. She also gets A La Carte items for students to choose from; however, these items are extra. Vending machines filled with snacks and drinks are also available for students. With changes to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, Mrs. Wagner will be able to continue improving the kitchen and quality of school lunches.