Food program offers free breakfast, lunch to students in Red Wing

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Throughout the summer, with parents busy at work, some children in Red Wing find themselves wondering what to do with their next meal.

Do they make another box of Kraft mac n' cheese with hot dogs slices and a side of potato chips? What about a Hot Pocket or frozen pizza?

Now kids, and parents, don't need to worry about the third day in a row of unhealthy meals thanks to the summer meal program in the Red Wing School District.

The program is free for any student ages 18 and under, with breakfast and lunch served in seven different locations.

The Summer Food Service Program is a cash reimbursement for meals system that helps areas that have at least 50 percent of the students enrolled are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

The program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Education - Food and Nutrition Service.

Brenton Lexvold, the food service director for the district, has overseen the program's growth since he started in 2013.

The need was there, but beginning the program was difficult, since it's heavily dependent on local business sponsorship and volunteers.

In 2014, St. Paul's Lutheran Church sponsored the program, with the St. Crispin Living Community serving the meals. The program served 1,468 lunches during their time.

From there, the program began to evolve to 2,062 meals served in 2015 and two sites. In 2016, the numbers skyrocketed, going to eight sites and serving 8,910 meals served.

Last year, with eight sites under its belt, the program almost doubled the meals served to 15,987.

This year is the first for breakfast being offered at locations including Burnside Elementary and Pepin Woods Mobile Park. Lexvold estimates they'll serve 33,000 meals.

Lexvold said the numbers of students to expect each day are "consistent," making the meals easy to prep a day in advance.

Meals are prepared at Burnside, where children attending Kids Junction and the nearby Learning Lane Child Care and Preschool can just walk over to eat.

These meals served aren't straight from the freezer meals either. As a registered dietician, Lexvold, along with his staff, prides himself on offering healthful meals.

There is always an abundance of fruits, vegetables, a carton of milk with each meal. Lexvold wants the students to eat something they might not normally get at home.

The district is in a co-op agreement with other schools in southern Minnesota including Cannon Falls, where they'll get locally sourced fruits and vegetables as well.

"I try to be creative ... one of the more outlandish, I guess, ideas I wanted to try was this hummus and pretzel crisp. And it's a gamble."

The menu isn't decadence and fine dining though. There won't be any caviar ending up on the trays of Red Wing students.

However, district cooks and bakers pride themselves on serving made-from-scratch meals. Maybe it's not an adventurous dish, but Lexvold said tater tot hotdish can be something students aren't used to. Or a chicken patty that is put together by the student, allowing them to create their ideal meal.

Lexvold even said the pizza they make doesn't come from a freezer. The dough is prepared in the kitchen and made in house.

The prep may be a little daunting to some, but offering healthful, homemade options is important.

"It's a decent, high quality, nutritious meal for free for really the kids that are 18 and under that are federally paid," Lexvold said.

The age range of students is wide and dependent on site locations, according to Lexvold.

In regards to where he hopes to see the program go, Lexvold envisions serving more snack options and possibly a dinner option as well.

In closing, Lexvold gave praise to his community for their support, but most importantly the staff and volunteers that make it all possible.

"It's one thing to be able to offer this program," Lexvold said. "It's another thing to have the staff and volunteers in our local community and have them rise to that challenge."