Free school meals at campuses across Douglas County
By Mindy Stone
What’s for lunch? Students ask this question daily. This school year, parents don’t need to stress about packing their child’s lunch or even putting money in their school account to buy it. Douglas County School District (DCSD), like school districts nationwide, continues to serve free meals for all students during the 2021-2022 school year.
“The free meal program has been going well,” said Brent Craig, DCSD Nutrition Services director. “Our kids are enjoying it, and our parents appreciate its availability. However, it is not without its challenges.”
DCSD Nutrition Services is currently short staffed by about 50 positions, while serving 30% more food than ever before. To keep up with the higher demand and provide all the programs, including breakfast and a la carte, additional help is needed.
“We are currently hiring in all areas, including Castle Pines schools, at a starting wage of $15 per hour. Volunteers can help us temporarily fill some gaps,” said Craig.
Parent volunteers are being asked to help in some school cafeterias until enough kitchen assistants are hired to help get free meals out to students.
More kids are participating in lunch this year because the federal government is providing meals at no cost through June 30, 2022.
“Our students have responded well, and we have seen an increase in the number of kids choosing a well-rounded meal containing fruits and veggies for free versus choosing to purchase snacks for their lunch,” commented Craig.
Castle Pines schools have seen a significant increase in meals served. According to DCSD Nutrition Services, Timber Trail Elementary, Buffalo Ridge Elementary, American Academy, Rock Canyon High School and Rocky Heights Middle School have seen a 68.6% increase in meals served from August 2019 to August 2021.
DCSD Nutrition Services tracks the number of meals, by type, sold per day per school, as well as a la carte sales and participation. For Castle Pines schools, the number of lunches served in August 2019 was 8,219 compared to 13,858 lunches served in August 2021.
“In August 2019, an average of 21% of our students were eating reimbursable school lunches. Most students, especially in the secondary grades, were selecting a la carte items rather than choosing meals with fruits and veggies. In August 2021, an average of 46% of our students are choosing reimbursable meals that contain fruits or veggies,” said Craig.
Students are required to put a fruit or vegetable on their tray to make it count towards a free meal at breakfast and lunch. A la carte food items are available for purchase, but not part of the no cost meal program. Students are limited to one free breakfast and lunch per day.