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Dig in: State Board of Education expected to approve UHS pilot lunch program for a second year

University High School likes its pilot lunch program so much that it’s going back for seconds Wednesday in Charleston.

That’s when the state Board of Education meets next, and the board, as noted on its agenda for the day, is already recommending that the UHS offerings be approved a second year.

As per code, the state board has final say on such requests from local districts.

Kiehl, who directs child nutrition services for Monongalia County Schools, pitched the program to Mon school board members last year.

The idea, he said then, was to introduce more grains, and less sugar, into the menu.

Which, he told Mon’s BOE, was admittedly a tall order — given that students still come to school with tall, caffeine-based energy drinks and coffees heaped with sugar for breakfast.

And lunch, he said, will still oftentimes mean a fast-food run for burgers and fries, for the students who drive to school.

Kiehl also doesn’t like seeing dumped cafeteria trays, he said.

That’s why, when he drops in at cafeterias right after lunch, he checks in with school custodians first.

From them, he’ll know immediately how well the menu went — or didn’t.

Trash cans tell the tale.

Don’t think it’s just a matter of “not liking” something, Kiehl said.

If a student doesn’t, and consigns his tray to the can in the corner of the cafeteria, that also means a wasted chance for a nutritional meal.

Especially, Kiehl said, if a kid tears into the empty calories of a bag of chips later because he’s hungry.

Hunger factors in at Mon’s school buildings, the nutrition director said, and not always by way of the growling belly of a growing teenager who just went out for football.

While Mon’s public district is one of the more prosperous in West Virginia, the shadow of food insecurity — a condition of poverty where one literally can’t get enough to eat to sustain one’s self nutritionally — still trails out long and broad here.

Breakfast and lunch in school, Kiehl said, might be the only substantial food a child or teen might consume that day.

Whole grains, fruits and vegetables already make up nearly 100% of the offerings on a typical menu in any Mon school, he said.

Last year, Kiehl’s department also set up “food courts” laden with salads and fresh fruits at UHS, Morgantown High and South Middle that have proven popular.

Same for the UHS lunch program state board members will discuss Wednesday.

UHS students also have the option to buy from the a la carte menu full of high-grain offerings and juices and other drinks void of caffeine or sugar, Kiehl said.

Most menu items are in the $1 range, he said.

“We do chicken sandwiches, Doritos, anything they might eat anyway — just in the high-grain, baked version.”

Like a kid who finally comes around to eating his vegetables so he can get dessert, the UHS program, Kiehl said, has been a steadily positive launch for lunch.

In two years, the volume of meals served for lunch has jumped 5%, Kiehl said.

Between 100 and 125 students a day purchase the nutritional a la carte items, with “less and less” unhealthy drinks being brought into the UHS building, he said.

“We’re pleased with how it’s going. It’s about providing proper nutrition for our kids.”

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