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updated: 7/19/2013 10:42 AM

Student meal provider gives insight to Grayslake District 46 board

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Healthier and tastier food options are a goal for a company providing breakfast and lunch for students at Grayslake Elementary District 46.

School board members received a presentation from Preferred Meal Systems Inc. representatives at a meeting Wednesday night that touched on some food highlights to expect for the 2013-14 academic year. Preferred mostly provides what are called prepared "compartment" meals, similar to frozen entrees sold in supermarkets.

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Steven Bruner, a regional district manager for South suburban Berkeley-based Preferred, said the company is complying with revised federal and state regulations on the serving of fruit, vegetables, protein and whole grains to schoolchildren. However, Bruner said, children don't always find healthier tastes better, such as in the case of whole-grain pizza crust.

He told board members that Preferred chefs frequently work with food in an effort to improve taste. He said the company also has six dietitians to help create nutritionally dense and balanced meals at its corporate headquarters.

Preferred account manager Laura Meiszner said it's hoped a VIP Tasters program can be launched at District 46 for the 2013-14 school year. She said about 30 children would be selected to participate.

"When you taste a pickle, what are some of the words you would use to describe that taste?" Meiszner said in giving an example of the VIP Tasters program for children. "So we teach them a little bit about vocabulary when dealing with foods."

Meiszner also asked District 46 officials to consider switching to an electronic point-of-sale system in the school cafeterias to make the lines go faster. She said money in an online account is deducted when a child's lanyard is scanned.

Of District 46's roughly 4,000 students, 23 percent were considered low income and eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school, according to the 2012 state report card.

Separately, the Illinois State Board of Education announced Tuesday that nearly $5 million in grants will go to 239 public and private schools to participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in 2013-14. Officials said the nationwide program was created to give free fresh vegetables and fruit to students to boost consumption outside of regular school meals.

Among the smattering of suburban schools to participate is Sunny Hill Elementary in Carpentersville. Sunny Hill is part of Barrington Unit District 220.

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