The Owensboro Public Schools summer feeding program is the only one in the state to be given a Turnip the Beet award by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is the third year the USDA has presented the Turnip the Beet award, which is given each year for "oustanding summer meal program sponsors who distinguished themselves with high-quality meals that are appetizing, appealing, and wholesome," according to an article released last week by the USDA.

Kaitlyn Blankendaal, OPS school nutrition instructor, said there were certain criteria summer meal programs had to meet in order to be considered for this award.

"They asked us how are the meals appropriate for the needs of the community, and we told them we try and be demographically appropriate," Blankendaal said. "We have some students who don't eat meat, so we offer meatless options, and we have some students who don't eat pork, so we always have an alternative option for them as well."

Another question asked included how the meals are prepared to be age appropriate for the population being served. Because the population is 18 years and younger, Blankendaal said OPS has mobile routes to areas in the community so students won't have to cross busy streets or travel far to receive their meals.

OPS was also asked whether or not taste-test surveys or other methods for gathering feedback on the meals served are used, and Blankendaal said she and other OPS volunteers and employees are always asking kids' opinions on meals served.

"If they don't like what we serve, we don't want to serve that," Blankendaal said. "We want them to eat."

She said the district also uses summer feeding programs as a way to test out new menu items they are considering for the school year.

The USDA also wanted to know whether or not educational programming was offered at the summer feeding sites. Whenever possible, OPS has local farmers or community partners present at summer feeding sites to present activities.

Quality summer meals are integral to kids, the USDA article said, because many do not have access to nutritious meals when school is not in session.

Blankendaal said the OPS summer feeding program staff work "really hard to provide these meals" for area kids.

"The students really appreciate them, and I think it's nice to be recognized for the high-quality meals the staff are serving these students, too."

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

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