Students, staff say food service deserves high grade
Fourth-graders are divided about the crab cakes, but business at the Haines School cafeteria is holding steady under food program director Brandi Stickler.
The numbers of students having lunch is 130, up from 97 at the start of the year. “We’ve kind of reached new heights. We’ve had people tell us this is the best meal in town,” Stickler said recently.
Eighty students eat breakfast at the school each day and about 70 also take a “sack supper,” including students participating in extracurricular activities.
Stickler was hired in September to take over the program, which grew under the leadership of Gen Armstrong, a nutritionist who led it for two years. Stickler has added an expanded salad bar and plans to offer a fresh food vending machine and put more emphasis on physical fitness in classroom presentations.
She also wants to make the school eligible for receiving road-kill moose. “It’s not pumped full of hormones, and a lot of kids around here have grown up with it.”
Stickler’s leadership of the program has won praise from teachers and parents.
“It’s always been really good, so I was worried when (Armstrong) left, but they’ve continued on with a great program,” said mom Victoria Moore, whose diabetic son requires a low-carb diet. “We’re grateful for the fresh vegetables and the produce they grow in their own garden. It’s really well balanced.”
Moore attended school in Haines at a time the school didn’t offer meals. “In sixth grade, we’d go to the Chilkat Bakery for a donut for lunch.” It’s great to see parents who come in and have lunch with their children, she said. “You get to know your kids’ friends. It’s healthy and social.”
Food program director Stickler said diet concerns aren’t limited to students who have special health conditions. “A lot of kids know what they can and can’t have nutrition-wise. I think a lot of them are getting brave. They’re trying the new stuff. We had a kid say, ‘I’ve never had kale before,’ and he liked it, which is funny for a little kid.”
Part of the challenge of the job is keeping up with strict nutritional requirements that come with federal funding of the program, Stickler said. “I’m trying to find the happy medium between what (students) like and will eat and what fits our guidelines. It’s a time-consuming process.”
Stickler said the program’s success rests largely with cooks Dick Haas and Cheryl Baxter, who have spent additional time preparing fresh foods and learning new recipes, she said. Roberts makes homemade chili once a month and Haas’ quinoa recipe has students eating the Andean grain.
A former pharmacy technician, Stickler is hoping the school district will help her get her dietician license. “I’ve studied nutrition. Nutrition and physical activity have always been a big part of my life. Hopefully, I can do a good enough job and prove to the (district) I’m serious about it.”
Longtime teacher Linnus Danner started eating cafeteria lunch this year after seeing the variety offered at the salad bar. “They have really good food. They serve crab bisque,” Danner said. “The kids still throw grapes and stuff, but it’s good food.”
Fourth-graders at the cafeteria last week said the food at the cafeteria was pretty good. Mackenzy Dryden gets school lunch “a lot,” she said. She said she likes the chicken burgers and homemade chicken noodle soup.
Classmate Sofia Sosa and some other classmates said they check the lunch menu ahead of time before deciding whether they want school lunch or brown bag lunch from home. Sosa said the food is a lot better than at the previous school she attended.
Several in the group said they didn’t like crab patties. “You pinch your nose when you eat them,” said one student. But that opinion wasn’t universal. Koa Doddridge said he liked them. “I love the crab cakes,” he said. “They’re so crabby.”