BIG HORN — Another school in Sheridan County School District 1 has ditched the national school lunch program in favor of locally sourced, made from scratch cuisine. Big Horn Elementary School kicked off its first day of school with the new lunch menus, joining the district’s high schools and middle schools in this venture.
Food Service Coordinator Dennis Decker has been collaborating on the new program with Business Manager Jeremy Smith to maintain affordability.
“It’s a big step to go off the federal lunch program and still be financially attainable,” Decker said.
At an estimated $100,000 — that includes salaries, food purchasing and benefits — the total should remain consistent with previous years on the NSLP. However, now that SCSD1 is completely funding the program, it comes with financial risks.
As they are no longer part of the NSLP, free and reduced lunches, which are still available, are not covered by the government and will come out of the general budget.
Participation in purchasing school lunches needs to increase in order for BHES to stay on the program.
“It costs more to buy that kind of food and provide those sources,” Smith said.
An increase in participation would offset expenditures making this new program cost as much as the NSLP. This is something Smith has brought up to parents: If they want the school to continue providing this service, parental support is necessary.
The switch was an attempt to provide more filling food, while bringing students back to the school’s lunch program. During a June 16 meeting that discussed a salary raise for Decker, former trustee Johann Nield brought up that prior to the new lunch system, students dropped from SCSD1’s lunch program.
The new program includes locally sourced ingredients, continuing its partnership with Holliday Family Farms in Dayton as well as scratch-made foods, a locally sourced fruit and salad bar and an a la carte item once per week.
Looking to expand the program’s scope this year, SCSD1 will also start new partnerships with Landon’s Greenhouse, Sackett’s Market and Legerski’s Sausage Co.
The new meals have been successful. And while higher in calories, they’re also more wholesome with real ingredients, Decker said.
The USDA requires its lunch program to not exceed 600 calories for ninth- through 12th-graders. SCSD1 meals for high schoolers weigh in at 700 to 800 calories.
For elementary school students, SCSD1 keeps it around 550 calories and doesn’t offer cookies like they do with the older students.
Decker also pushes vegetables for the younger students. They still get favorites like macaroni and cheese and pizza but cooks also get creative with marinated mushrooms or mixed veggies.
Not everything is healthy, Decker admits, but he strives to take care of the students’ nutritional needs the best he can.
After piloting the program at BHES this year, Decker and Smith will consider it for Tongue River Elementary School in the 2016-2017 school year.
Decker has considered opening a food stand in the summers at the Sheridan Farmers Market and Third Thursday Street Festival to help raise money.
While implementation of the program at TRES will have to wait until at least next year, Smith said the pilot at BHES will allow the district to test out the program with smaller financial risk before bringing it to TRES. Additionally, the new building at Tongue River will better accommodate the cooking demands.
If BHES can maintain 80 percent participation, then they will stay off the NSLP and it will also help offset costs for TRE to switch over to the new program, Smith said.