2006-07-13 / News

School panel concerned about what's for lunch

By Donna K. Drago

A nutrition specialist from the state Department of Education, joined the School Committee at its July 6 meeting to give advice on what school-lunch items must be provided in order to meet federal guidelines.

The matter of how to offer school lunch - including staying the course by purchasing lunch services from North Kingstown, finding another vendor, or making lunches in-house - have been discussed in recent months. The matter is of concern to the committee because the cost of the North Kingstown program is escalating and the Jamestown school district is not happy with menu items that committee members consider to be unhealthy.

Stephen Carey of the state Department of Education, a nutrition program specialist, told the board that basically "it's up to you" to decide what kind of lunch should be offered at the school.

A few basic needs must be met in terms of vitamin and mineral content, and in the amounts of fat and protein that must be contained in the lunch, he said. There must also be 8 ounces of milk offered to kids with every lunch, Carey noted. Otherwise, it is up to the school district to set the menus, he said.

There is not a requirement that lunches be hot, Carey said, in response to a question by School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser about whether it would be possible to offer a lunch that included a healthy sandwich and a piece of fresh fruit.

There is a requirement that every school district offer a lunch program, Carey said, adding that lunch must be offered for children under the federal poverty guidelines who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and for everyone else as well.

The nutrition program specialist said he looked at some of the menus coming out of North Kingstown in recent months and called them "pretty typical." He noted that items Jamestown administrators consider unhealthy, like pizza and chicken nuggets, are on virtually every district's menu. "It's just the way it is," Carey said. Items like broccoli and carrot sticks are also on the North Kingstown menu, which Carey called unusual and said that finding fresh vegetables "is unheard of" in the urban districts.

On finding another food provider, Carey said that 31 of the 36 school districts in the state use one of the three mammoth foodservice companies: Aramark, Chartwell, or Sodexho.

School Superintendent Kathy Sipala said she was familiar with Chartwell and knew that they had an active interest in "farm-toschool" programs, which teach kids about the benefits of eating healthier and fresher foods.

Carey told the School Committee that there would always be additional costs associated with providing fresher foods. "You will pay more for chicken breast and broccoli than you will for a peanut butter and Fluff sandwich with canned peas," he said.

Carey supported the Jamestown districts' efforts to provide healthy lunches for the island's students.

"We love to see districts want to do better," he told them.

The School Committee discussed that it is probably too late in the year to have a new food vendor in place for the start of the school year in September. The board discussed language in the new food-service contract offered by North Kingstown that says Jamestown's lunch program must be identical to that offered in North Kingstown. "We want our individualized

stuff," Sipala said about the healthier items like salads, yogurt, and fruit bars that they negotiated with North Kingstown to provide in recent years.

"Now they're saying no way," Sipala added.

Kaiser said that they needed a sub-committee to go and re-negotiate the food service contract with North Kingstown for the upcoming school year.

Kaiser, William "Bucky" Brennan, and Sipala said that they would be on that negotiating team.

"I encourage you to stick to your guns and get what you want," Carey told the committee.

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