Stevenson High to offer healthier lunch options in fall

With an eye on student health, Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School will begin offering students fresher and more diverse meal options this fall.

The goal is to help kids eat better by serving dishes with "significantly" less fat, salt and carbohydrates than traditional school lunches, Superintendent Eric Twadell said.

The deep-fried or greasy entrees that have been the staple of school lunches will remain, but they'll be joined by dishes such as tuna salad sandwiches with lemon and tarragon or paninis made with roast beef and ricotta cheese.

"We're not going to eliminate pizza and fries and cheeseburgers, because we know that's not going to go over well," Twadell said. "But what we want to do is start tilting toward healthier options."

Stevenson's food-service contractor, Sodexo, is developing the new menu. It's part of a healthier program Sodexo calls Mindful.

The Mindful menu historically has been adopted by corporate clients and college dining halls, said Sodexo's Habib Osman, the food service general manager at Stevenson. Stevenson is the first high school to join the program.

The menu uses low-fat cooking methods, such as steaming, poaching and grilling. Additionally, cooks use canola or olive oil instead of less healthy alternatives.

To reduce diners' salt intake, chefs use fresh herbs and spices to boost flavors. Likewise, sugar can be replaced or supplemented by cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla.

"(They're) infusing tastes and flavors to make a more appealing plate," Osman said.

The Mindful approach doesn't look only at entrees and side dishes. Drink offerings will expand, too.

For example, students will be able to purchase water that's been freshly infused with citrus, berries or cucumber, Osman said.

Sophomore Maddie Christiansen is excited about the Mindful plan. A self-described picky eater, she tends to choose the same meals over and over at school, and she knows some aren't healthy.

"I'm hoping I can find better choices to eat," she said.

Freshman Amir Graupe wasn't as optimistic.

"I don't think people will buy (lunch) as much," he said. "They like their food as it is. They'll probably bring lunches."

School lunches at Stevenson generate about $2.3 million in sales annually, officials said, but that's not profit for the school. Officials simply hope to break even each year.

"We don't want to make money (through lunch sales)," Twadell said. "We don't operate like that."

To offer the healthier options, Sodexo will buy new coolers and other kitchen equipment totaling $110,000. The school board voted Monday night to reimburse the company for the purchase.

One issue Stevenson and Sodexo have to resolve is the price of the meals. Using fresher ingredients means the healthier dishes will cost more to produce and thus will cost more at the register. But the increases shouldn't be significant for students, maybe only a dollar or so for comparable dishes, Osman said.

"We have to keep the price down," he said.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches will be able to choose from the Mindful offerings, too, Conrey said.

"For some of our students, the food they eat at school might be the healthiest meal they have all day," Stevenson spokesman Jim Conrey said.

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  Sodexo employee Olga Rodriguez makes a sandwich for a Stevenson High School student Tuesday. The Lincolnshire school will offer healthier lunch options next year launched by Sodexo called Mindful menu. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Stevenson High School students Lesya Protosova, left, and Maddie Christiansen eat lunch Tuesday at the Lincolnshire school. Stevenson will offer healthier lunch options next year launched by Sodexo called Mindful menu. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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