Steve Gallagher is responsible for making sure thousands of children get complete, nutritious meals every weekday.
He is the director of Child Nutrition Services for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
State and federal guidelines for school nutrition are endless, and school personnel have to keep up with the changes, Gallagher said. Lunch trays now hold much healthier food than in the past, and students have more choices, such as multiple entrees and salads.
“Fried, salty foods are a thing of the past. ... We were one of the first major districts to eliminate fried foods and limit the intake of saturated fats and salt among other things,” Gallagher said. “We were also a leader in converting to whole grains and low-fat/no fat milk.”
Today, school cafeterias can be a place of discovery, Gallagher said.
“With our menus and many programs like Farm-to-School and the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables initiative, we expose our students to many items they may not have had a chance to taste,” he said. “Our desire is that by exposing them to a wide variety of items and broadening their food I.Q., our young people will create better eating habits that will last a lifetime.”
Creating a balanced, nutritious menu can be a challenge, Gallagher said. Elements of each meal are carefully selected.
In his district, 90 percent of the 43,000 or so students receive free or reduced-price lunches because of low family income. School meals become even more important.
“Many of our children may not eat as nutritious and balanced a meal outside the school,” Gallagher said.
“Items like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and low fat milk are sometimes not a standard staple at home due to their higher costs.”