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Federal grants help Homer schools to offer healthy breakfasts

Posted: February 27, 2012 - 12:03am

HOMER — On a recent Monday morning, with a chilly wind blowing snow sideways, students arriving early at Paul Banks Elementary School for breakfast had a warm welcome waiting for them: toasted cinnamon raisin bagels. The mouth-watering smell greeted youngsters coming in from the cold.

An option is a bowl of Raisin Bran cereal, a departure from heavily sugared cold cereals, with low-fat milk. Add low-fat strawberry yogurt and fresh kiwi and it was small wonder there were smiles on the faces of students fueling up before the morning bell rang.

Full price, the meal is $1.75; the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District also offers free or reduced meal plans. Adults pay $2.75.

“It’s nice for days we get up late, but are at school with time enough time to eat,” said Jennifer Nevak, president of Paul Banks PTA and mother of a first-grade student.

Frankie Weber, Paul Banks kitchen manager, sprinkles other options throughout the week. The 20-30 students taking advantage of the breakfast program might be offered a breakfast burrito or a breakfast quesadilla. On Fridays Weber includes a breakfast bar she described as “kind of a treat, but it’s really healthy.”

The focus on fresh fruit and low-fat and low-sugar items is parent-driven.

“A lot of parents were asking if we could change things. (Menus) were within the federal guidelines before, but we’re trying to bump it up a bit,” she said.

Dean Hamburg, who heads the district’s student nutrition program said Paul Banks is one of 32 schools in the district that serve breakfast.

“We are having success with whole grains, additional fruits associated with breakfast and the continued effort to limit sodium,” said Hamburg, who earlier this month was awarded “Director of the Year” by the Alaska School Nutrition Association.

Paul Banks also is one of four schools on the southern peninsula — others include Nanwalek, Susan B. English and West Homer Elementary schools — to receive grant funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fresh fruit and vegetable snack program for every student.

Weber shops for, prepares and delivers to each classroom the Monday, Wednesday and Friday snack for the school’s 174 students. Recent snacks have included fresh fruits, especially pears, kiwis, blackberries and blueberries. She also keeps her eyes open for Alaska-grown vegetables that can be used as snacks.

An after-school snack program has been launched at McNeil Canyon Elementary School. It fuels the minds of youngsters participating in the school’s learning lab, a program offering youngsters additional help with their studies. The snack also helps fuel students involved in the schools’ after-school skating and skiing programs.

“We have different kinds of whole grain crackers, apple cups, juice,” said Tamekia Jones, McNeil Canyon’s food service manager, of the snacks offered. “The kids go through a little snack line, choose what they want and sit down to eat. It gives them a refresher for the next part of their day.”

School meal programs for Alaska’s students are funded with federal dollars and receive no financial contribution from the state of Alaska. However, that may change if Senate Bill 3, introduced in January 2011, finds enough traction to make it through the Legislature and survive Gov. Sean Parnell’s veto pen.

The bill, originally sponsored by Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, seeks a match of state funding for schools participating in the federal free and reduced price school breakfast and lunch program.

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