Savannah schools work to improve student meals, nutrition

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Try serving breakfast to about 19,000 students who are rushing to get to class on time.

Onetha Bonaparte, head of the School Nutrition Program for Savannah-Chatham County public schools, isn’t satisfied with the 50 percent of students who grab breakfast each day. She’d like to see 100 percent of students take advantage of the school’s offer of free breakfast, but she understands that’s not realistic. “My goal would be 65 percent. That’s my goal,” she said.

The Food Nutrition Program at SCCPSS served 3 million breakfast meals and 3.9 million lunch meals during the 2017-18 school year, or an average of about 40,759 meals per day.

For students to consume the balanced meals recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including half their meals devoted to fruit or vegetables, it helps when they eat breakfast, Bonaparte said. The decision to offer free breakfast “is based on the poverty rate of the district. I just decided to do all schools because you have some schools that fluctuate as far as free and reduced percentages,” Bonaparte said. At many schools, grab-and-go items are set on tables in the hallways so students can pick up milk, fruit and cereal on their way to class.

But during lunch, students go through a cash register line even when their lunch is free.

There they are greeted by a staff member who likely knows the student’s by name. “The students love that. They absolutely love when they come up to the register, ‘Hey, Johnny, how’s your day?’”

The meals must have at least one fruit or vegetable item and three of five nutritional components, such as milk, whole grains, protein and fruit and vegetables, to meet requirements for the free and reduced lunch program.The computer POS [point of sale] terminal will ding when it becomes reimbursable,” Kinsaul said.

The program receives $3.39 in government reimbursement for each free lunch and $2.99 for each reduced-fee lunch. It also receives 39 cents from the government for lunches paid for by students who don’t qualify for the free or reduced-fee lunch program.