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Social Issues

Healthy choices bring kudos from the kids and the Ohio Department of Education
Cloverleaf is one of very few school districts to win this year's Stellar Award for Best Nutrition Practices
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Cloverleaf is one of just 36 out of the state's 614 school districts to receive the state's 2012 Stellar Award for best nutritional practices.
Courtesy of Cloverleaf Local Schools
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School’s almost out, but there’s still time for a quick meal. Today’s Quick Bite has us lining up for breakfast in a school district that’s been honored for the way it feeds its children.

school food gets an A

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It’s time for breakfast at Cloverleaf Elementary in Seville and the speed of the foot traffic into the cafeteria indicates kids can hardly wait.

Maybe they’re a little hungrier now that the food’s better.

The southern Medina County school system won the Ohio Department of Education’s Stellar Award this year for best nutritional practices. Only 36 of the state’s 614 school districts share the honor.

New building, new menus 

The new elementary school building that opened in January has a state-of-the-art kitchen and the food service has a new philosophy: super-serving its customers.

Kitchen manager Bonnie Carter gives the breakfast bunch lots of choices.  “They had cold cereal , the cereal bars, muffins, fruit, their milk, or juice,  breakfast burrito with a hash brown.”

It’s served in a bag like you would get at a fast food restaurant.

“They’re in a wrap, in a foil wrap to keep them warm and then they’re put into a little boat with their hash brown. I think it is more appealing to the kids.”   

Food service director Carrie Beegle came on the job 18 months ago when the food wasn’t so appealing.

 “  You know the frozen pizzas, frozen everything . I mean Stouffer’s lasagnas and things like that. Not a whole lot of nutrition. Not a whole lot of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables.”  

With the new way food’s being served, third grader Emma Harris discovered she actually likes vegetables.

 “ I like their like salads because they have different toppings and stuff and they have different choices.  I want to try new things and see how they taste.  And if they taste really good then I like them but if they don’t ,then I don’t.”  

Carrie Beegle finds giving kids choices results in less waste.

 “We have gone from making pre-made salads that probably about 75% of it would have been thrown away. Now we have a salad bar where the students can put their own toppings on and that has made a world of difference. In fact I had a parent come up to me and said how you are getting so many kids to eat salads? And I said in response: They make it themselves. They have ownership of it. They eat it.”  

Local sources

They’re eating local, too.

 “From Medina County Produce we get local bibb lettuce . It’s actually organic bibb lettuce that’s grown right here in Medina County. And we utilize Dairymen’s for our milk. We try to use as many local vendors as possible.” 

And many ethnic specialties, like Teriyaki chicken subs, Potato and Kielbasa Bake, chicken paprikash, and on Asian Day, General Tso’s chicken.

 “ Instead of just putting it on the tray we actually serve it in Chinese take-out boxes. They can use the chopsticks and they get the fortune cookie and it’s the whole experience.”  

The food service at Cloverleaf was running a deficit of about $30,000 a year when Beegle came aboard 18 months ago.  This year it’s close to breaking even. Beegle attributes that in part to more children buying lunch instead of packing, and her tactic of pairing higher and lower cost items to make a cheaper meal.

 “ If we have a chicken breast that costs us  69 , 79 cents by the time it’s done. Then we pair it with some commodity frozen green beans that cost us $2.25 a case and maybe a rice pilaf that costs us $2.25 for 50 pounds of rice. So that’s how we are able to drive the price down and still give them a quality nutritional lunch.” 

Lunch ladies who care 

Beegle gets high-fives from kids in the hallways and says the superintendent is one of the cafeteria’s regular customers, but her staff is her biggest source of pride.  “They love what they do. They know that they make a difference and they come to work with a wonderful attitude every day.”  

She encourages them to come up with their own recipes.

 “We’re getting away from the lunch lady look. We’re getting away from just slapping things on the plate. We want the food to look like restaurant-quality food because that’s what our consumers expect. We have children now that have grown up watching the food network. They know what food needs to look like. They know what they want.  So if you slap a spoonful or a scoopful of spaghetti with sauce and everything already mixed up in it on their plate and just hand them on their way they don’t like that and they’ll tell you that by not buying your food.”  

Third-grader Nicolas Niselski used to pack ,but today he’s buying breakfast with his buddies: 

 “ It’s because the cooks here make it like just right. Just how I like it. “

Breakfast costs a dollar for elementary pupils and $1.50 for high school students. Lunch costs $3 at the high school. $2.25 at the elementary school.  Beegle says a la carte offerings include flavored coffee at the high school coffee shop, Brewed Awakenings, and healthy snacks disguised as junk food:

 “And you see an m. and m. cookie and as a parent you would think wow, boy, I can’t believe that they’re serving those m. and m. cookies . Well, these are 1/3 the sugar. 1/3 the fat and they’re also protein and vitamin and nutrient fortified.”  

Cloverleaf’s pizza crust is 100 percent whole grain, with turkey sausage and pepperoni  and low-fat skim cheese. And potatoes are baked not fried.

Government rules and regulations targeting the childhood obesity epidemic have made Carrie Beegle’s job a little harder.

 “Sugar content, calories, and it’s getting a lot tighter. It used to be that we can fry things like French fries and everything every day. Now we can’t even fry that, everything is baked which makes our jobs a little harder but it holds us accountable as well.” 

Last month Beegle started a new after-school healthy- cooking class for children and their parents. Tot Chef classes will begin again in the fall.


















Related Links & Resources
Cloverleaf School district website

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