COPPERAS COVE — In previous years, Melissa Murray-Paez said Copperas Cove Independent School District students who receive free or reduced meals were only able to get food from certain lunch lines.
This year, the high school cafeteria implemented a food court-style area, where students can choose from a variety of mini-shops featuring pastas, whole grain pizzas, sandwiches, homestyle cooking and burritos.
Murray-Paez, director of child nutrition for the district, said the best part of the changes is that students who receive free and reduced meals can order from any line.
Copperas Cove has 54 percent of students in the free or reduced program, Murray-Paez said.
“They get the same choices as every student. ... so there’s no distinguishing between which students are free and which students are full pay,” she said.
“Sometimes the kids, if their friends are going through a line that’s selling pizza and they don’t have money in their pocket, they’ll choose not to go through another line because of the stigma ... and chose not to eat, so that’s not healthy.”
Murray-Paez said her “menu guru” and coordinator of child nutrition at the district, Serena Spivey, makes sure the district follows all of the USDA’s nutrition guidelines, including serving grains, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables.
With the changes and increased options for all students, Murray-Paez said the district has served about 70,000 more meals this year.
Using federal reimbursement, Murray-Paez said the district also is expanding its Summer Feeding Program, which will allow more children to receive free meals throughout the season.
She expects to serve at least 800 free meals a day during the summer.
“We’ve always had a smaller feeding program, but as the economy gets tighter, it’s getting harder for families,” she said.
This year, there will be four feeding locations across Copperas Cove that will serve breakfast and lunch and Murray-Paez said the only requirement is to be 18 or younger; participants don’t have to attend the school district in order to receive a free meal.
“The kids in Cove and the surrounding family members that come in are getting a great healthy, hot lunch,” she said.
Another upcoming change that will go into effect July 1 is the Smart Snacks in School initiative that states concession stands will no longer be able to sell foods that don’t follow the USDA nutrition guidelines.
“A lot of those things (like chocolate bar and candy fundraisers), you’re not going to be able to have anymore unless they meet the same timeline that we have to meet,” she said.