When it comes to nutritious school meals, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is leading the pack.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Student Nutrition Director Dean Hamburg was named Director of the Year by the Alaska School Nutrition Association last week.
The award was presented by AKSNA President Bob Eason, who is the nutrition director for the North Slope Borough School District in Barrow.
“Dean is one of the most compassionate directors in the state for feeding children,” Eason said. “His program is leading the USDA meal programs in Alaska.”
Hamburg said the award was a “delightful acknowledgement” of the work that it takes to provide meals to students.
“Myself and other school meal program leaders feel we have a privileged and challenging mission to properly deliver the millions of USDA school meals each year to eager Alaska students,” Hamburg said.
In January, the USDA released new regulations for school meal patterns that will go into effect July 1 for lunches and July 1, 2013 for breakfasts. The changes were championed by Michelle Obama.
Most of the districts throughout the state will need to adjust their meal programs, Eason said.
“The Kenai Peninsula already exceeds all of those new rules,” he said. “(Hamburg) is the first to make it as far as he has — he’s really leading the way.”
Each year, the USDA supplies Alaska school districts with about $50 million to bring appropriate nutrition to schools, Hamburg said.
“We’ve added a breakfast program at Nikolaevsk School, a breakfast program in December at Port Graham School,” Hamburg said. “Those in addition to the programs that exist from Neil Canyon to Tyonek to Seward to Nikiski are important provisions of meals for success in KPBSD classrooms.”
The next step for school meals in the Borough, Hamburg said, is to support the recent announcement of the new school meal patterns for increased levels of whole grains and a continued reduction in sodium.
“The school meal programs across the Peninsula are all USDA school meal programs that are monitored for their nutrition content by USDA protocol,” Hamburg said. “The (programs) across the Peninsula are successfully meeting the criteria for low grains, low fat and low sodium.”
Hamburg is in Juneau this week lobbying for Senate Bill 3, which is a bill that supports state help for school meal programs. The money coming from the state would be in addition to funds provided by the USDA.
“Currently, it is only the federal USDA support that makes meals happen in Alaska,” Hamburg said. “And we have an opportunity for Alaska to assist with some ‘per meal’ support.”
Hamburg said there are 41 states that assist with the meal programs to some degree, Alaska is among the nine states that provide no assistance.
“We’re hoping Senate Bill 3 will help Alaska provide that necessary support for success in Alaska classrooms,” Hamburg said.
After being passed by the Alaska State Senate and the Alaska State Legislature House Education Committee, the bill is being considered by the House Finance Committee, Hamburg said.