Each day, Ithaca City School District students receive nutritious, tasty meals in an enjoyable atmosphere, thanks to the Department of Child Nutrition.
The department’s 40 employees are focused on providing as many homemade and fresh foods as possible while meeting federal nutrition guidelines for school meals, ensuring children are able to learn on a full stomach.
“We understand that a hungry child cannot learn,” said Child Nutrition Director Beth Krause, who began working for ICSD in February after the retirement of longtime director Denise Agati. “School meals serve as a building block to promote the growth and development of our students.”
The department participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition to providing reimbursements and government commodities, the USDA also sets the nutrition requirements that meals must meet, such as age-appropriate calorie limits, more whole grains, less sodium, and a wide variety of colorful vegetables.
Since becoming director of the department, Krause, a registered dietitian, has focused on improving the nutritional value of school meals. In addition to incorporating salad bars into every building, Krause recently introduced a new, more nutritious breakfast menu. Pre-packaged hot foods have been eliminated in favor of healthier options, such as cups of peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, and whole grain bagels. Students are also limited to only four cereal options: Rice Chex, Cheerios, Raisin Bran, and Rice Krispies.
The department strives to offer homemade foods, including burger patties, salads, meatballs, soups, and mashed potatoes as much as possible and collaborates with the Youth Farm Project to procure locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables when available.
Staff also focus on introducing students to new, healthy foods. Through its participation in the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food’s Cool School Food Program, the department develops new and different plant-based menu items from around the world, encouraging students to try food they may have never tasted before. When new menu items are introduced, students are offered free samples and taste-tests in their cafeterias.
The department is focused on providing excellent customer service to Ithaca students and parents. Krause invites families to share comments and suggestions, and to submit their favorite recipes for the kitchens to try. Not only does the department strive to serve food that meets the nutritional needs of students, it also strives to serve food that children will actually eat and enjoy.