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School lunch nutrition by the numbers
Every day, schools serve up hundreds of pounds of food, balancing healthy choices in bulk
Gainesville Middle School students line up for lunch on the first day of school. - photo by Tom Reed

Counting up a middle school lunch

What does it take to feed a hungry throng of middle school students? We visited the cafeteria at the new Gainesville Middle School to find out how much food they go through in a week - or, even a day.

400: Number of students eating in the new lunch room at any time. 

1,080: Slices of cheese pizza served in one day. (That's 15 cases of pizza, 72 slices in each case.)

6,500: Number of milk cartons sold to students each week (That's 1,300 a day.)

80: Pounds of corn served up to students on any given day. The cafeteria also serves up 20 pounds of mixed vegetables.

375: Number of apples consumed by students in a day, along with a case of bananas and a case of nectarines.

18: Number of industrial-sized cans of fruit cocktail served up for the first day of school. Each can has about 25 servings each.

$1.50: Cost of a hot lunch at Gainesville Middle School.

400: Amount of biscuits served for the school's free breakfast.

140: Pounds of meat sliced fresh for sandwiches by the cafeteria staff on a daily basis.

For the first day of classes at the new Gainesville Middle School, school administrators and teachers rushed around making sure everything ran smoothly.

And this included the 10 cafeteria employees who had to serve 1,200 middle school students a lunch of cheese pizza, mixed veggies, carrots and fruit cocktail.

"We have 1,395 students enrolled, and we usually feed about 1,100 of them; and at the beginning of the year about 1,200," said Donna Perron, the school's nutrition manager. "So far I have ordered through next week, Thursday; we try to just order a week's worth at a time and be just a little bit ahead."

Perron, a 12-year employee of the Gainesville school system, said there were a few snags in ordering for the first week of school, but it won't affect the end product.

"We had a problem with our produce delivery, so we won't start our options program until next week," she said. "We're going to offer a chef salad with a nutritious, complete meal in a box and I (will) have that as well as our hot (lunch) line."

Perron said a nutritious meal for the kids is her primary goal.

"Actually we have been probably on the front line of nutrition because so many schools have done a lot of desserts and sugary things," she said. "We've not done desserts in the 10 years that I've been here, but every once in a while for special occasions - but we do offer fruit."

The school lunches are prepared according to federal guidelines, she said. "Every day we have to supply a protein, vegetables and fruit and milk, and we try to do 2 ounces of meat or meat alternate and then we have to do a few breads."

Students don't have the option to drink sugary sodas, either.

"They've taken all that kind of thing out," Perron said. "We have juices and water available for students."

The hectic start of the school year has the kitchen bustling, and the staff has just one focus for the first day - and for the rest of the year.

Simply making enough nutritious food to feed hundreds of hungry students.

"Just making sure that there's enough for everybody and we have opportunities to reload and cook more," Perron said. "So we shouldn't have any problems with running out of anything."