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Nutrition program a critical component of Plains schools

by TRACY SCOTT Valley Press
| November 8, 2023 12:00 AM

The Plains School Nutrition Program is a sometimes-overlooked part of the Plains school system, yet an especially important part of each student's day. For some children, school breakfast or lunch is their only source of a nutritious meal each day.

The School Nutrition Program is staffed by six dedicated members who spend their day preparing meals for 70 students during breakfast and 260 for the daily lunch program. 

District school lunch preparers include Larrijo Ovitt as the head cook and supervisor, Mindy Richards a seven-year associate, Jeanine Cook, also a seven-year member of the team, Laurie Ann Hermiston, a five-year member, Kendra Silva who is starting her second year as a member of the team, and Samanth Anderson who started this year.  

Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Walsh stated, “The team prepares the food each day, under the supervision of Larrijo Ovitt, are dedicated to seeing to it that all students are treated with respect and feel valued. The team does a great job!” 

Plains lunch program includes several other program types to promote the wellness and nutritional intake of local students, which include an after-school snack and backpack programs. The snack program offers fruit and vegetables to students, while the backpack program distributes foods for the students to take home over the weekend in a discrete manor. This program is paid for by the Sanders County Health Department.

“Our School Nutrition Program is by far one of the best I have ever seen," said Walsh. "Not only do our students receive quality food that has a high nutritional value, but they get to enjoy their meals in a clean and comfortable environment with their classmates and friends.”

As with other school districts within the state, Plains has struggled to keep costs under control. During the Covid years, the district saw a 43% increase in food costs. To help keep costs under control the district applied for and received grants from the Food to School Grant Program for $20,000 funded by the USDA Food Program. 

The program provides 100% American grown foods such as meats, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products to schools participating in the National School Lunch Program through entitlement funds. USDA foods support the dietary guidelines for Americans and school meal pattern requirements to make it easier for schools to prepare healthy meals. 

Most of the beef consumed by the Plains school lunch program is supplied by local ranchers from the Hot Spring area. Several of the programs that contribute to the success of the school lunch program are Harvest of the Month, and Beef to School. The Montana Harvest of the Month program showcases Montana grown foods in Montana communities while the Beef to School program collaborates with schools to serve Montana grown beef to local districts.

Capital improvements for the kitchen in the near future include a new dishwasher, with hopes for new ovens eventually.

The district offers free and reduced lunches with 57% of the school students qualifying, up 9% in the 23-24 school year. Current costs for meals to students are K-6 $1.95 per meal, 7-12 grades $2.10, and $4.68 for adults. The last yearly costs for the school lunch program was $222,500.

One of the first priorities that Walsh has on her agenda is to increase safety and security within the school buildings. 

Walsh said, “I want the community to know that their children are cared for academically, they’re cared for physically. That this is a good safe place for them to learn and grown in.”

    Kendra Silva is the newest member of the school lunch team in Plains. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
 Tracy Scott 
    Plains schools head cook Larri-Jo Ovitt. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)

    Mindy Richards prepares lunch for Plains students. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
 Tracy Scott 
    Jeanine Cook makes snacks for the students. (Tracy Scott/Valley Press)
 Tracy Scott 

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