Houston Schools go Fresh & Local for Food Service

Taher employee Benali Habbas prepares broccoli Friday for the Houston school’s lunch program in Houston, Minn.houstonMN

Houston elementary and high schools run to the lunch line every day to see what’s to eat. But this year, something different is on the menu: fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Houston Public School district hired Taher, a food service management company, to take over the kitchen in the elementary and high schools. The new lunch program started at the beginning of the year, and students are starting to warm up to smaller entrees and more side dishes of the healthier foods.

“Obesity is the No. 1 concern for most parents,” said Heidi Osterhaus, the school’s new chef. “Now the kids can have more healthier choices.”

Osterhaus has made several changes since she started a few weeks ago. There is no canned fruit, only fresh, and no food with trans fat and very few processed foods. Each lunch period, she lines the counters with 10 large containers filled with apples, broccoli and salad.

“(The kids) are realizing they need to take the healthier food,” said Todd Lundberg, principal of Houston High School. “If they aren’t getting full on this meal, they are not eating everything we offer.”

Taylor Bublitz, 14, and LaShonda Jonsgaard, 13, are happy with the change.

“A lot of my friends were complaining about the food last year,” Bublitz said. “Now there is less grease.”

“And it tastes better,” Jonsgaard added.

The school has never hired an outside vendor for the lunch program, which has always been headed by school employees. The idea was brought forward to enhance the healthy foods available to students, and officials decided the best way to do that was get a specialist.

“We are experts in education,” said Kelley Stanage, spokeswoman for the school. “So it was in our best interest to find experts in healthy food.”

The price for lunch at the elementary school went up five cents and 25 cents for breakfast. At the high school, the price for lunch went up 15 cents and 25 cents for breakfast.

Other area schools, including Winona public schools, are also taking steps to ensure healthier lunches, though most are keeping their food services in-house.

Winona’s public schools say they use local farmers as much as possible for fruits and vegetables – and even buffalo meat, which has less fat than beef.

“We have always offered fruits and veggies,” said Gayle McRae, Winona Senior High School nutrition manager. “We give the students quality, not quantity.”

Making the students happy and keeping them healthy is what is important, school officials said.

“We pay attention to what the students like,” Osterhaus said. “And try to make a healthier version of it.”

By Jessica Larsen news@winonadailynews.com