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Cooking up a healthy diet

HERNANDO – Making sure children in the DeSoto County School District (DCS) have the most nutritious lunch (and breakfast where offered) available is the charge of the DeSoto County Office of Child Nutrition and director Cynthia Coleman. 

Her office oversees the meal program for the more than 40 schools in the county-wide public school district. 


Coleman said DeSoto County Schools is in the second year of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Meal Pattern, which puts emphasis on the amount of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or meat alternate and milk served to each child eating in the cafeteria during the school day. 

She said this year’s specific emphasis is on grains. 

“In grades kindergarten through 12 last year, 50 percent of the grains we offered had to be whole grains,” Coleman said. “This year, 100 percent of what we offer have to be whole grain. We’ve gone through the process of reformulating all of our products to meet this standard. We can keep some of the things the kids like, but we also make it healthier.” 

Coleman said lowering the sodium content of foods served in the schools is the other point of emphasis this school year. 

“I really don’t think we are going to have a problem meeting the targets because we have prepared ahead of time,” Coleman said. “We knew it was coming so we have already started looking for lower sodium products.”

All those requirements don’t mean good taste will be sacrificed, however.

“We’ve worked with a chef and we’ve developed our own spice blends for the state of Mississippi,” Coleman said. “We have a bunch of spices blended together that we can use in our recipes instead of using salt and pre-packaged seasonings that are high in sodium,”

Low-sodium vegetables, canned products and USDA commodities shipped to the school district will also be lower in salt content. 

All of the tasty, yet healthy foods prepared for DeSoto County school children still needs to be paid for and the district offers a program that helps parents be sure their youngsters don’t forget their meal money. 

My Payments Plus is an automated program to help parents monitor their children’s lunch balances, view purchases, and even make payments into their child’s accounts. 

While meal money can be pulled from the account for a small service fee, Coleman suggests using the system, if only to just check balances, which can be done free of charge.

“We still traditionally take payments on the lunch line, but the responsibility of lunch money or breakfast money and monitoring your child’s lunch balance is with the parents,” Coleman said. “Sending notes home don’t always get to parents.”

The system is accessed through a website, www.mypaymentsplus.com, and Coleman said a Smartphone app is also available at no cost. 

Children who have special needs in nutrition are assisted with the district nutrition program, as well. 

“We have lots of food allergies in our district,” Coleman said. “Probably the two most prevalent that we have are lactose-intolerant and peanut allergies. We are a ‘peanut-free’ cafeteria program; we will not serve anything with byproducts of peanuts with it.”

Coleman said she also works with parents on other special needs they may have for their child’s diet. 

DeSoto County Schools will again offer a free and reduced meal program for parents that qualify and apply, which can also be done online through her department’s website at www.desotocountycn.org.

Bob Bakken: [email protected] or call 662-429-6397, Ext. 240.

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