Lynden Schools Food Service puts focus on students first

Lynden Schools served fruits and vegetables aplenty to students well before it became a government mandate. Lynden Schools has a policy to feed students, never refusing a hungry student the opportunity to eat. And Lynden Schools has continued to expand its variety with additional nutritious offerings. None of this changes — only expands — under the direction of the district’s new food service supervisor, Narlene Van Beek. 

Van Beek, a 20-year veteran of the district, started as a dishwasher at Lynden in November 1999. She worked in four Lynden school buildings over the years but has spent the past 13 years as the head cook at Lynden Middle School. She took over the district’s head position this summer. 

“The food and staff part are a piece of cake,” Van Beek says about the adjustment. “But I still have lots to learn about OPSI-required crossing of t’s and dotting i’s.”

Van Beek knows the district inside and out, part of a two-person team that worked directly with the architects of LMS to design the kitchen there. Her experience across the district helps her in her new role, based out of the district’s head kitchen located at Bernice Vossbeck Elementary. 

While Van Beek doesn’t plan to change much in her first year at the helm, she does hope to get the word out about existing services. 

Under new laws, Lynden Schools is no longer allowed to communicate to students a negative balance in their food account, which has led to an increase in negative balances districtwide. Lynden Schools never wants to turn away students because of financial concern, but Van Beek says she knows of stories where students are nervous to ask parents for more money for lunch and she wants all families in the district to know they can apply for free and reduced lunch support simply by filling out a form available at all school buildings, the district office, the Family Community Services office and online. The forms are available in both English and Spanish. 

“We feed the kids no matter what, but we want parents to know there are also options for them if they qualify for it,” she says. 

Van Beek also wants to spread the word about breakfast served at every building, something the district has done for years. Along with breakfast available, the variety is something Van Beek hopes both students and parents remain aware of. At the middle school, for example, lunches again include made-to-order sub sandwiches and salads. 

“We want parents to know how much variety is always available,” she says, “and parents are always welcome to come in and purchase lunch with their kids.” 

Lynden Schools traditionally serves around 1,200 lunches per day, with over 600 total at the three elementary schools, 300 at the high school and about 285 at the middle school. For breakfast, the high school generally serves around 125 meals, the middle school close to 60 and each of the elementary schools anywhere from 60 to 100 per school. 

The Food Service staff of 20 across the district not only follows state and federal laws regarding food service, but also serves the needs of Lynden students by finding the most nutritious options available. Recent changes to hoagie buns and rolls offer more whole wheat options, for example, and Lynden Schools may make a change in pizza recipes. 

As enrollment continues to creep up, Fisher and Vossbeck both must account for more lunch sessions to ensure enough seating for students. But no matter how many students pour into Lynden’s lunch program, Van Beek says there remains two pretty consistent norms on the most popular foods: “Nachos are always big at all the schools,” she says, “and mashed potatoes. When we do turkey gravy mashed potato, that is a pretty huge day.” For more information on the free and reduced lunch program or food pricing, visit the district’s website at