This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.
Let's Move Logo
Let' Move Blog

Whitefish Public Schools Take Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in Stride

Whitefish Public Schools Food Service Director Jay Stagg started transitioning to more scratch cooking and using fewer processed foods when he was hired 5 years ago. So, when the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) rules were implemented, it might have seemed as though they were just catching up with the improvements he had initiated.

“There weren’t too many changes needed from what I was already doing,” he said.

Before the final regulation’s effective date, Stagg had already changed over to whole-grain-rich products and reduced sodium levels.

Two new projects he’s making progress on are showcasing local products in his “Made In Montana Meals,” and designing the food-related areas of a new high school.

Stagg said repurposing an old walk-in cooler made it possible to use more locally produced foods.

“We were able to adjust the temperature and humidity so we can store produce all winter,” he said. “A local farmer grows all my carrots and a nearby orchard grows all my apples.

“We use a lot of fresh produce on the salad bars, and slice, blanch, par-boil and freeze as needed,” Stagg added. “I serve very few cooked vegetables in my middle or high schools, except for cooked beans, and that’s mostly in the Montana Chili, where there’s a mixture of beans.”

Stagg also practices innovation in staffing. He uses a lot of student help for cleaning up and washing dishes. They use a free period they may have, get paid for their time, and get a free lunch.

Stagg said all his beef is local, and he’s looking for a local source for poultry and a fish source at a good price point.

“I do use the chicken strips from the USDA Foods,” he said, “and grind the turkey for turkey patties.”

(Note: Through the USDA Foods program, USDA supports American farmers by purchasing commodity foods and distributing them to nutrition assistance programs, including the National School Lunch Program.)

He encourages careful consideration of the USDA Foods options,

“I have to use my entire allocation of USDA Foods to make the budget numbers work. I don’t know what I would do without the USDA Foods.”

Stagg’s creativity is getting more exercise lately. The current high school is open campus for lunch, meaning few kids stay on campus and eat the school lunch, so he tries to make it very appealing. The new high school will be closed-campus, so he knows it will be a challenge to keep students “happily on campus.”

“I’m anticipating needing to keep it varied on a daily basis, and the design will be contributing to that, with different stations in different areas, like a salad bar, a soup bar and a coffee shop-bistro area for breakfast selections.”

He’s alerted the architects to make sure they include a lot of outlets in these 21st Century spaces for charging up phones, laptops and tablets. 

Jay Stagg is always thinking ahead.

For more information about how USDA Foods supports schools, visit: