School lunch leader wins state honor

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Jennifer Montague

Jenny Montague, Kalispell Public Schools Food Services director, is a leader when it comes to serving healthy meals using locally purchased food on a large scale.

She recently received statewide recognition for her efforts to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and serve up Montana-sourced foods and products.

Montague was one of five people chosen to receive a Health Hero Award from Eat Right Montana and Action for Healthy Kids. Montague is starting her third year at Kalispell Public Schools.

The inaugural Health Hero Awards recognized the outstanding efforts of individuals and organizations striving to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity to improve the well being of Montanans.

The roughly 4,000 meals Montague and her food service team serve up daily don’t impact just the health of children but also the local economy.

Her initiative to purchase local ingredients makes the Kalispell program a top institutional purchaser of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative, according to a press release from Eat Right Montana.

“We’re just very proud of what she’s done for our food service program and the fresh options for students,” Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Darlene Schottle said. “She’s really worked to provide a large variety for our students that they’re excited to have access to.”

About 22 percent of the district’s approximately $750,000 food service budget is spent on Montana products — and cost effectively — by cutting out the middleman and working directly with producers.

Not including milk, Montague said she spends more than $70,000 for locally produced meat, fruit, vegetables and lentils.

Montague also was recognized for implementing summer food serving sites in Kalispell based on the high number of students who were eligible for free or reduced meals. During the summer program, the school district serves free breakfast and lunch. A percentage of the cost is federally reimbursed.

Montague said summer also is a prime time for students to gain weight on items such as soda or cheap snack foods.

“They’re getting the calories, but not the nutrition,” Montague said. “In terms of childhood obesity, studies have show kids gain more weight in the summer than during the school year.”

Montague credits her success to a great food service team and Montana FoodCorps service members, who helped establish school gardens and run after-school student cooking classes.

“All of the work I’ve done wouldn’t be possible without FoodCorps service members and the hard work and dedication of my food service staff who really believe in our mission and vision,” Montague said. “Just yesterday Parkside Credit Union donated $6,000 to our Farm-to-School Program. A school garden costs about $1,000. This is enough to build six new gardens.”

It’s not necessarily the recognition that Montague is proud of.

What makes her proud is using her talents to put money back into the local and state economies, serve nutritious meals with a “made from scratch” philosophy, combat obesity and get her hometown behind these initiatives.

“I believe all children deserve the right to healthy food,” Montague said.

“The award really means a lot to me. The National School Lunch Program has [also] made some fantastic changes and I’m happy to help move those along in the most progressive way I can.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

 

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