BAGDAD —Schools across Santa Rosa County celebrated National School Lunch Week this past week.

This year's National School Lunch Week took place Oct. 14-18, with the theme for this year being "School Lunch Snapshot."

"We manage and staff 29 school cafeterias in Santa Rosa County," said Bill McMahon, senior operations manager and chef for Sodexo, quality of life services. Sodexo is the company contracted to provide nutritional breakfast and lunch meals for county school students. "Sodexo has 182 employees working in the county and supervise 10 to 12 district employees.

"About 42 percent of county students qualify for free or reduced cost breakfast and lunches," he added.

McMahon said there is a national menu guide for schools with examples of nutritious meals.

"I've been doing this for 14 years so we pretty much know what nutritional foods we need to feed our students," McMahon said. Sodexo has a dietician on staff and they have a regional dietician that reviews the menus.

It takes a lot to feed so many kids each day, said Stacy Bloodworth, who has been cafeteria manager at Bagdad Elementary for 12 years.

"The dietitians review any food allergies a student may have and provide substitutes," said Bloodworth.

The schools provide a list of students with allergies. Those students are flagged at the cash register. The person staffing the register visually inspects the student's lunch tray to make sure they have the correct foods.

The school has dairy-free cheese and soymilk products all the time for those that are lactose intolerance.

"We provide fresh fruits and vegetables in our 'A to Z' salad bar and we use whatever is in season," Bloodworth said.

Whenever a new food is considered for the menu samples are provided. The samples are usually something the student may never have an opportunity to try, for example fresh dates.

"There are approximately 475 children at this school; we feed maybe 330 every day. The rest bring their lunch from home," McMahon said.

Bloodworth always has peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because of the demand. The most popular meal they serve is pizza, which is on the menu every Friday.

National School Lunch Week was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to celebrate the benefits of the National School Lunch Program, the largest federal child nutrition program in the nation.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946.