MacKenzie Kroening opened her lunchbox last week and pulled out a surprise.
Tucked in with her Kool-Aid juice pouch, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, orange, Oreos, and chips, was an early Valentine's gift, a tiny pillow with "Hug Me" written on it. Kroening, a second grader, was thrilled with her lunch time gift from her mother, who packs the lunch everyday. "Mom packs it. Sometimes I save some of it and have a snack at daycare later," said Kroening.
While some children bring lunch, cafeteria manager Sally Parks said an average of 265-275 children buy school lunches at North East Elementary each day.
The most popular items are Mickey's pizza and chicken nuggets.
Payton Blowers was eating shaped fish sticks, apples, and chocolate milk. "My favorites are the spaghetti and the chicken nuggets," said Blowers.
Noah Bunty also had apples and the fish dish. "I didn't want a milk. I'm not a fan of the milk here," said Bunty.
Zachary Watson opted for the turkey sub school lunch. He got apples, an orange, and white milk. "I like the nuggets, French fries, tater tots, and corn dogs," said Watson.
Malinda Prentice is a general assistant who does lunch duty in the cafeteria. She knows who eats what.
"We have some children who eat everything. If they are pickers and they don't eat it (items brought from home), I tell them to take it back home. We encourage them to eat something," said Prentice. "Some days, the kids eat every bite. They like the school pizza, mac and cheese, hot dogs, orange chicken, and steak sandwiches."
Prentice is a mother of three. She said she sees children trying to hide food. "I encourage them to eat and not throw it away," she said.
North East Elementary serves up free and reduced price lunches to 64 percent of the 540 students enrolled at the school. Everyone in the school gets free breakfast, which is served in the classrooms at the Title I (large number of free and reduced meals served) school.
North East Elementary School principal Lisa Lowe said that the current focus at breakfast is to serve up more proteins, less carbs, and less sugar. Chocolate milk is no longer offered with breakfast because white milk has 12 grams less of sugar.
Lowe said that staff has been asked to eat breakfast at school, so they can serve as role models.