The Vermillion School District’s Summer Lunch program has been recognized for its culinary excellence by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The district is one of just 118 districts nationwide -- and the only summer meal sponsor in the state of South Dakota – to receive a bronze, silver or gold “Turnip the Beet” award for its summer meal effort in 2018. In addition, VSD Food Service Director Rachelle Loutsch was recently awarded a “High Flyer” award from VSD contractor Lunchtime Solutions for significant achievements she made in Vermillion during the past year.
Turnip the Beet Award
The USDA’s Turnip the Beet award recognizes outstanding summer meal programs that distinguish themselves by providing high quality meals that are appetizing, appealing, and wholesome.
Vermillion School District’s summer lunch program is free for children ages 1 to 18. This program has high participation each summer. In fact, in the summer of 2018, more than 150 lunches were served per day.
To win a Turnip the Beet award, districts must submit meal plans and statistics about meal use. Districts must demonstrate they are serving a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and culturally-appropriate meals each week throughout the summer.
Because 80 percent of summer meal participants in Vermillion are under the age of 10, the VSD summer meals focus on kid-friendly foods, like mini corndogs, taco in a bag, breakfast for lunch, and pizza, explains Vermillion Food Service Director Rachelle Loutsch.
“We really try to focus on offering things that will appeal to kids,” said Loutsch. “Every day, we have an unlimited fruit and salad bar with a variety of fresh and canned fruits on it. The kids love it!”
Of course, Loutsch and her team must still adhere to strict dietary requirements set by the USDA. Loutsch achieves this while also offering up kid favorites through careful ordering.
“Our buns are all whole grain,” said Loutsch. “The mini-corndogs are actually chicken instead of pork, but they don’t know it. … Lunchtime Solutions has really researched the market and has a lot of great products available that fit nutritional guidelines, but that kids also love.”
The USDA was also impressed by Vermillion’s unlimited fruit and veggie bar, which is available at each lunch and that contains at least six choices each day in a rainbow of colors, including fresh summer fruits like strawberries, grapes, watermelon and clementines. Vermillion students' favorite vegetables are served as well, including red peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and baby carrots, Loutsch said.
Another important award criterion was the use of student feedback to formulate menus. Loutsch and VSD staff try to engage the children on a daily basis about their likes and dislikes. Then, twice a year, Loutsch meets with student representatives, parents, and school officials in a more formal setting to discuss the overall lunch program.
“I always try to be active in serving and engaging with the children to hear their feedback on a daily basis — what they like, don’t like and want to see more often,” Loutsch said.
The USDA also took into consideration activities that are offered during the summer program while determining award recipients. Loutsch said she and her staff often dress up and try to make lunch service fun.
VSD Business Manager Sheila Beermann says the district is very proud to receive this award.
“The award shows the cream of the crop, and we are proud to be recognized,” she said. “Lunchtime Solutions and the district work very well together. We are all on the same page. We all have the same values. We are one family.”
Added VSD Superintendent Damon Alvey: “I am just proud of our staff and the folks who run the meal programs at all levels to make an award like this possible,” said Vermillion Superintendent Damon Alvey. “A lot of staff do the work daily to provide healthy and delicious meals to serve to students and staff and we know the pride they take in their work. Now, others will know. It is an honor for Vermillion Schools and Lunchtime Solutions to be amongst these top food service programs!”
High Flyer Award
The Turnip the Beet award isn’t the only award recently earned in VSD’s culinary department. Vermillion School District Food Service Director Rachelle Loutsch was recently honored with the “High Flyer” award from Lunchtime Solutions, Inc., the company that services the VSD lunch program. The award recognized Loutsch’s achievements during her first year of service with the company.
Amy Lundgren, president of Lunchtime Solutions, nominated Loutsch for the award, saying she was impressed with Loutsch’s positive approach and her ability to lead people. She also said that Loutsch helped play an instrumental role in the district winning the Turnip the Beet award.
“Not only do our customers tell us how much they enjoy working with Rachelle, but our long-term employees thanked us for hiring her,” Lundgren said. “Rachelle jumped in and took on the challenges she faced by embracing and living our company values. She fit us and we fit her.”
Loutsch, who holds a sociology and criminal justice degree from Iowa State University, came to Vermillion in April 2018 with nearly 15 years of experience in the food and beverage industry.
Loutsch says she is humbled and honored to earn the award.
“I feel excited about it,” she said. “I love this job. It is the kind of job where I am excited to come in and work every day. It’s nice to have a company like Lunchtime Solutions to stand behind and to be part of. I’m proud of the company.”