Clear Lake High School is one of four school districts to receive a national U.S.D.A. award for its efforts to improve the nutritional quality of meals for students.

Clear Lake reduced sodium in menu items by using spices, more fresh local foods and some low- or no-sodium products. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Clear Lake district to deliver its award.

“I’m happy to be in one of the school districts that’s ‘top of the class,’” Vilsack said.

Vilsack credited Clear Lake for overcaming challenges to improve menu options.”It’s difficult for schools with tight budgets,” Vilsack said. “Oftentimes because of the pandemic, there were supply chain and continue to be supply chain challenges, so the nutrition folks at school do an amazing job.”

The U.S.D.A. has provided several billion dollars of assistance over the last several years to help U.S. school districts improve the nutrition of school lunches. The department’s “Healthy Meals Incentives Recognization Awards” are designed to showcase schools like Clear Lake that have made big gains with that support.

“We’ve provided the school district a little extra resource and that, in turn, was used by the school district to expand their storage capacity, refrigeration capacity, so they are in a position to do a little bit more with fruits and vegetables and get more direct connection with the community, which every school district is interested in doing,” Vilsack said.

Clear Lake Community School District food service director Julie Udelhofen said the school got a Healthy Meals Incentive grant in August of 2023. “We installed a walk-in freezer in our middle school,” she said. “We updated our serving line so that we could serve salad items every day and we purchased a food processor for each of our three kitchens so we could slice, dice, grate and all the things we needed to do to make processing local foods easier.”

Udelhofen said her food service team created custom blended salt-free seasonings to bring out the flavor of a wide array of vegetables as one way to reduce sodium consumption among students in the lunchroom.

(By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)



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