State program could add fish to menus

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joshua Tynan, a seventh-grader at Hazelbrook Middle School, was one of the first to try a special shrimp pasta as part of a trial-run for a new grant that would bring fresh seafood to Tigard-Tualatin schools.Students may not have realized it when they ate their school lunch on Friday, but they were participants in a pilot program that could change the way Tigard-Tualatin schools feed their students in the next two years.

Through special arrangement with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the district unveiled a new program meant to promote Oregon fisheries and bring fresh seafood to students.

On Friday, fresh shrimp fettuccini and shrimp cocktails were handed out to students at Tigard and Tualatin High Schools and the district’s three middle schools.

It’s a far cry from the corn dogs and pizza that kids are used to, said Emily Ritchie, a Food Corps Fellow working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture on the program.

The goal is two-fold: Promote healthy eating through fresh seafood and help the economy by supporting local fisheries.

“It’s important,” Ritchie said. “We’re a coastal state, yet a lot of kids don’t have that connection to the coast or fisheries.”

Schools spend about a dollar on a student’s lunch, Ritchie said. The grant program helps offset the increased cost of seafood.

Tigard-Tualatin didn’t apply for the grant when it first came around in 2011, said Diane Wylie, the district’s food service director. The funding ended at the end of the school year, but the program had a enough money left over to offer one Portland-area district the chance for a one-day trial run of the program.

Now, Wylie said she’s kicking herself for not applying sooner.

“It was a real eye-opener for us,” she said. “It showed us that we can do this. Now, our next step is to figure out how and what we need to do to implement this.”

And how did the students feel about it?

“Oh, I love seafood,” said Hazelbrook seventh-grader Chris Wise.

Fellow seventh-grader Joshua Tynan agreed. “I don’t really get this at home because my cousin is allergic.”

For Tigard-Tualatin, where 39 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch, Wylie said providing kids with access to healthy foods is a necessity.

“If this grant comes through, we will be able to get this type of food in front of kids who have never had it before,” Wylie said.

Hook, line and sinker

The Bend-La Pine School District in Central Oregon has run a Boat to School program since February.

Nearly 200 miles from the ocean, the district has fresh seafood on its menus every day, after receiving a $127,000 grant from the state.

“We do a ginger and soy-marinated tuna loin over coconut rice with fresh pineapple salsa,” said Katrina Wiest, the wellness specialist in charge of overseeing the lunch menus across the district. “We have shrimp salads, shrimp cocktails, made-from-scratch sushi. We do tuna and rockfish and Dover sole, and chowders and fettuccini.”

Wiest said the program has taken off with kids excited to eat something they normally do not have on their tables.

“They go for it, hook, line and sinker,” she said. “They are introduced to something that most kids don’t have the opportunity to have at home. It’s like fine dining, but at school.”

About 41 percent of Bend-La Pine’s students are on free or reduced lunch.

“For our families, you can’t go to the store and buy fish for dinner for your family, it’s not in the economic makeup. Parents have to look for cheaper and hearty foods for their kids,” she said.

In Tigard-Tualatin, Wylie said the Bend-La Pine model would likely be transformed a bit, but depending on funding, students could have some form of fresh seafood in lunchrooms every day.

$5 million for schools

Wylie said she also wants to expand the district’s school gardens and work with local farmers, such as Supa Fresh Youth Farmers, to offer more local options to students.

Wylie admits that while the district does partner with some local businesses for fresh produce, it doesn’t do nearly enough.

“Certain school districts have hit it full force and are more advanced with what they do,” Wylie said. “We could certainly do more.”

A bill in the Legislature hopes to expand the program. After seeing how students reacted to Friday’s trial-run, Wylie said she wants in.

“Oh, definitely,” Wylie said. “I think this is an awesome opportunity that the state is getting behind. It’s the kind of program that is not just helping local schools, but the local economy, the local fisheries and the local farmer. We are all hand in hand, and it’s a positive piece of everyone in the state.”

The new bill would expand the grant to $5 million for schools over the next two years.

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