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District celebrates week highlighting school lunch

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Crews Middle School cafeteria manager Rachel Mallard, from left, Nancy Garrett, Denise Rankine, assistant manager Bonnie Dahser and Laura Drinkwater form an assembly line to make spicy orange tacos on Wednesday morning as they prepare to feed the rush of students during lunch. This week is National School Lunch Week and schools across Gwinnett are participating by creating special menus.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Crews Middle School cafeteria manager Rachel Mallard, from left, Nancy Garrett, Denise Rankine, assistant manager Bonnie Dahser and Laura Drinkwater form an assembly line to make spicy orange tacos on Wednesday morning as they prepare to feed the rush of students during lunch. This week is National School Lunch Week and schools across Gwinnett are participating by creating special menus.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Crews Middle School, along with other schools in the county, strive to serve healthy meals to students and provides them with locally grown fruits and vegetables.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman On Wednesday, Crews Middle School students were treated to spicy orange chicken tacos with white meat chicken and coleslaw in a flour tortilla.

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National School Lunch Week in Gwinnett

Rachel Mallard, cafeteria manager at Crews Middle School, gives us a tour of the school lunch.

Rachel Mallard, cafeteria manager at Crews Middle School, gives us a tour of the school lunch.

SUGAR HILL -- By providing novel food choices, students, teachers and staff are celebrating a national campaign this week that places school cafeterias across the district in the spotlight.

It also gives the system an opportunity to bring attention to its Farm 2 School initiative that puts locally grown produce on students' breakfast and lunch trays.

A campaign of the School Nutrition Association, National School Lunch Week runs from Oct. 10-14 this year.

Karen Hallford, registered dietitian with Gwinnett County Public Schools, said cafeterias are "offering some fun, interesting, sort of trendy entrees for the kids to try."

Those entrees include a special beef lo mien offering and "fiery orange" chicken tacos.

Hallford said it gives the district an opportunity to "get the students interested and excited, and it also gives the system a chance to test out some new items as well."

One lunchroom offering that's been tested, tried and true, is the local produce, Hallford said.

The Farm 2 School Program began in 2009, "and it's been going strong ever since."

In the 2010-11 school year, the system served about 900,000 servings of local produce.

The district chooses a specific fruit or vegetable every month to purchase from a farm in North Georgia. This month's fruit is apples.

"We put them out as whole apples, and we also make an apple crisp, apple slaw and apple cinnamon oatmeal," Hallford said.

Offering local produce makes for healthier foods, she added.

"As soon as produce is harvested, the nutritional content begins to decline ... this is a faster way to get the produce to the students, not to mention supporting the local economy. It's a win-win," Hallford said.

Rachel Mallard, cafeteria manager at Crews Middle School, agreed.

"We want the kids to be healthy," she said. "By using locally grown fruits and vegetables, we're doing just that."

During the 2010-11 school year, the district served about 224,000 servings of watermelon, 96,000 servings of squash and 261,000 servings of apples, just to name a few.

According to the School Nutrition Association's website, the purpose of National School Lunch Week is to "promote locally sourced foods."

The association is "dedicated to providing over 31 million children high quality, nutritious, low cost school meals every day ... and protecting and enhancing children's health and well-being through school meals and nutrition education."