As regulations continue to move toward encouraging people make healthier choices in their diets, school lunches are no exception.
Schools in USD 490 are following the same federal regulations as all other schools in Kansas, bringing about dislike of some of the meals and concerns about the amounts of food.
“We were required to implement the new calorie and sodium and fat standard requirements,” said Superintendent Sue Givens. “We complied with that and had some feedback from students and parents that they did not like some of the options and did like some of the menu items particularly.”
The new standards identify the healthy ranges for five categories of food – fruits, vegetables, grains, meats or meat alternatives, and fluid milk – as well as the healthy ranges for total calories, saturated and trans fat, and sodium.
Students have commented there is not much taste to some food and not enough food.
“Again, our job is to comply with what is offered,” Givens said. “We decided even though we had to comply, we didn’t have to comply with every single menu item on the six-week cycle.”
So the district sent a survey to every parent and student asking which items they liked. The district then began the process of deleting those items that don’t have at least a third of the students who like them.
Givens explained that they have to meet those weekly totals when they pull a menu item and add something else.
“It is taking a while to get that implicated,” she said.
Norm Wilks, director of fiscal services, said it is frustrating and complicated dealing with the food service guidelines, such as they can change some daily minimums, but not calorie counts.
“We need to look at being able to contract or higher a dietician,” Wilks said. “It doesn’t really justify a single employee or cost of dietician.”
Because the district didn’t replace the food service director a couple of years ago when the person in that position left, they split up those duties.
Now they are looking at the possibility of hiring a food service management company that would provide a more appealing and professional food service quality.
“What we would like to pursue is working through a six-month process that is required under state regulations now to ask for a request for proposals for a food service management company to provide the management of the food service program,” Wilks said.
It is their goal that company would maintain the current employees in the district.
Page 2 of 2 - “It is not a highly popular issue in Kansas and the process is significantly complicated to get through,” Wilks said.
The Board of Education gave their approval to start the process of looking into that option. The district will be setting up visits to some of the other school districts that use these companies and invited the board members to go along.
“It’s more like a professional cafeteria that would invite you to go through it,” Givens said. “It’s more along the lines of what a hospital cafeteria looks like with multiple options. It looks so different.”
Such a company would also help the district with efficiencies with cooperative purchasing offering cost savings and options for special needs and allergies.
Some of the local districts using such a company include Augusta and Andover.
“We are among a lot of districts in the state that are looking at options to provide options for kids,” Givens said.