Fresh tastes best
Hutchinson schools expand bulk milk program
Kindergarteners Avalyn (left) and Korbyn choose chocolate milk while Lesli Mueller stands by the milk dispenser Nov. 30 at West Elementary School in Hutchinson, MInnesota. Mueller is the director of child nutrition for the district and helped bring a milk dispenser program to all schools there. PHOTO BY JAN LEFEBVRE
HUTCHINSON, Minn. – All students across the Hutchinson school district now have access to fresh milk straight from the farm.
On Oct. 25, Tiger and West elementary schools became the last schools in the district to roll out the bulk milk program that began in the high school and middle school last February. The feedback has been positive from students and staff.
Lesli Mueller, director of child nutrition for Hutchinson schools, was involved in getting the program up and running. She also works for Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato schools, where she has overseen the addition of dispensers as well.
“There’s a world of difference in the taste between coming out of a carton and coming out of the dispenser,” she said. “The milk is so fresh. It’s coming right off the farm. Kids are really excited about the taste.”
The improved taste of the milk has kids drinking more.
“I like that kids are drinking more milk,” Mueller said. “New kids are drinking milk. Once they gave it a try, they liked it; they just had to get past that first taste.”
Mueller said she sees gains in both health and food knowledge through using dispensers.
“(Drinking more milk) is another way for kids to get nutrition as they are growing, another way to get protein,” Mueller said. “They’re also learning about the farm and where their food is coming from. To me, that’s pretty exciting.”
Mueller said the district spent time preparing staff, students and parents for the change because there are reservations when attempting something new.
Linda Field has worked in the district’s lunch program for almost 30 years. She said it was unsettling at first to think about the change.
“To be honest, I had my concerns, but the kids have proved me wrong,” she said. “They have done a wonderful job with the change.”
Field has seen positive results both in students drinking more milk and wasting less.
“This is definitely a lot better than kids taking just a few swallows from a carton and then throwing it in the garbage,” Field said.
Besides reusable glasses ending carton waste, students are throwing away less milk because of the principals, teachers and other staff taking time to explain and show how the dispensers should be used, encouraging students to take only the amount of milk they think they will drink, knowing they can always return for more.
Although there is a bucket in each lunch room for students to dump any milk they do not drink before placing their used glass in the crate provided, the buckets now have little to no milk in them after lunch periods. The crates of used glasses can be placed directly in dishwashers.
Like Mueller, Joanie Steinbach, a lead cook in the elementary schools, sees benefits with the dispensers.
“The kids think it’s fun, so they are drinking more milk,” she said. “They love it. They’re also learning to be responsible and not to waste.”
Rob Richardson, a culinary coordinator in the elementary schools, agreed.
“Kids like the flavor and the ability to go back for seconds,” he said. “It actually simplified things quite a bit.”
Richardson also said he appreciates both the reduction of waste and the cooler space they now have since they do not need room for carton storage.
Milk is supplied to the district by Stoney Creek Dairy near Melrose. Nate Terres, who is in charge of sales and marketing for the dairy, said he is glad to be part of the district’s efforts to offer a better milk product. Stoney Creek delivers milk once a week to Hutchinson schools and other schools that now have bulk tanks – Eden Valley-Watkins, Maple Lake, Litchfield, Dassel-Cokato, McCray and West Central.
Terres said he knows of schools in the state that have made the switch, including schools in Minneapolis.
“It’s a great way to get students excited about dairy and to drink more milk,” he said. “The non-drinkers see how excited the other kids are and might give milk a try. We might make a milk drinker for life.”
Terres said he sees dispensers as being positive for both students and the dairy industry in general.
“It doesn’t matter which farm’s milk they drink, but it does mean a lot to us at Stoney Creek to be a part of it,” he said. “Healthwise, it’s beneficial to these kids, and it helps grow the whole dairy industry.”
Mueller said she is grateful for others who first got her thinking about adding the dispensers.
Barb Schank, nutritional services director in the Waconia district, had already implemented a bulk tank program several years ago. When a state meeting for directors was held at Waconia, Schank showed Mueller and the other directors how the program worked.
A few months later, Kevin Buss, who was on the Minnesota Dairy Promotion Council, contacted her about implementing a program.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I should be considering this,’” Mueller said. “I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel because I could always use Barb as a great resource.”
Mueller decided she wanted to take time to prepare everyone in Hutchinson before launching the program.
The district sent out information and materials to teachers a month ahead of time, helping them with what they could say to kids to help things run smoothly. Some even did a practice run with their students before their school’s launch date.
“We also put up posters and had announcements, just getting kids excited and really promoting it that month before starting,” Mueller said. “Things ran so much smoother that way, not that we didn’t have any hiccups, maybe some little spills, but surprisingly not as many as some thought there might be. I don’t think we even talk about spills anymore because there’s hardly been any.”
Elementary students wore cow-themed eye glasses on the first day.
“They got a kick out of it,” Mueller said.
Kindergarteners Avalyn and Korbyn from West Elementary School approve of the new
dispenser in their school.
“I like pulling up the levers,” Korbyn said.
Avalyn mentioned the milk itself.
“I like when it tastes good like that,” she said.
Students have a choice between chocolate and white milk at each dispenser. Both Avalyn and Korbyn are fans of chocolate.
Mueller is also hearing approval from parents.
“Just like us, they were a little reluctant at first, wondering if it was all going to work, but I’m definitely hearing good things, such as their kids coming home and saying how good the milk tastes,” she said. “They are probably hearing more comments now about school milk than they were before.”