A variety of healthy, nutritional items will grace the lunch menu for Lee County students, which can be monitored on a new interactive website that is being launched this year.
Lee County School District Registered Dietician Lauren Couchois said the district has a new interactive website and application for a web based menu system called Nutrislice.
"Nutrislice is where we post all of our weekly school menus that can be accessed by parents, guardians, students, nurses and anyone who is interested in seeing what we will be serving each day," she said. "Nutrislice provides the nutritional facts, descriptions, information about our local foods, allergy information and carbohydrate information."
It also gives students the opportunity to rate the food and provide feedback on a daily basis, which Couchois said will provide staff with insight on popular food items.
The Lee County School District will also explore its current Farm to School Program more this year, allowing students to interact with farmers and learn more about the foods they eat that are grown within the area, Couchois explained. Those items will be featured on the monthly menus.
Another new feature this year contains items within the Smart Snack Guidelines, which reduces excess calories and added sugars.
"We do this because we know that choosing healthy foods in schools will lead to better educational and lifestyle outcomes for students," she said.
The meals are made from whole grains, providing students with healthy amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, selenium and B vitamins.
"Evidence indicates that whole grain intake may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and is associated with a healthy body weight," she said.
Fresh salads, wraps stuffed with protein, vegetables and whole grain breads are also another choice for students.
A variety of fruits and vegetables will be served to ensure students are receiving the recommended nutrients. Low fat or fat-free milk options are also provided because calcium and vitamin D tend to be lacking from the average American diet, Couchois explained.
"Nothing is fried, everything is baked, made with whole grains, reduced sodium, reduce fat, and reduced sugar than anything you could find in the store," she said. "We purchase our products with the K-12 guidelines in mind, so manufacturers will make specific products of popular items to fit our needs."
Some of those products include PopTarts and pizza.
The PopTart, which is made available for students, is made with whole grains, reduced sugar and does not include any hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup. The pizzas are made with whole grain crusts, reduced sodium, reduced fat cheese, lean turkey pepperoni and 1/8 cup of tomatoes per slice.
"We keep the sodium low in a lot of our recipes by using herbs and spices to provide added flavor, rather than use salt to do so," Couchois said.
She explained that the district exceeds current guidelines by providing fresh produce more often than required.
"We add baby spinach to our everyday salads, student have multiple choices of produce to choose from every day, all of our a la carte items have met the Alliance for Healthier Generation guidelines for the past three years, which is three years ahead of schedule," Couchois said.
In addition to lunch, the Lee County School District offers Universal Breakfast, a free breakfast for all students.
"This year we are implementing a new serving method, which will provide multiple options at breakfast for the students to choose from," Couchois said. "Last year, we had one meal choice for the students to select, but this new school year we will be offering up to three meal choices per day."
The change was made to make breakfast more appealing for the students because studies show that when students eat breakfast they have a higher success rate in the classroom.
Students also have the opportunity to receive free lunches if their family is income eligible.
On the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 18, students will be given an application to receive free lunches. An application can also be found at mealapplication.leeschools.net starting Tuesday, Aug. 5.
Last year 44,550 students in the Lee County School District were eligible for free lunches.
The cost of lunch will remain the same this year, $2 for pre-k through 5th grade and $2.25 for 6th through 12th grade.