2006-12-21 / Front Page

Food vendors respond to School Committee invitation

By Donna K. Drago

At its workshop last Thursday night, the School Committee heard from food vendors about the pros and cons of trying to meet its goals of offering healthy lunches at an affordable cost for island students.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser told the vendors that what Jamestown is asking for “is a little unusual,” and that the nutrition guidelines are going to be “more restrictive than the USDA in some areas.”

She asked the vendors to “tell us what’s possible.”

Among the four vendors who attended last week’s session was Betty Prairie from the North Kingstown Food Service, which has been providing lunches to Jamestown for several years.

Prairie said, “I have met all the demands” that have been asked of her department and “to hear that our lunch is unhealthy is rather a surprise to me.”

“We’re not saying that NK serves unhealthy foods, by relative standards,” Kaiser said to Prairie. The lunch offerings were “less healthy than what we in Jamestown would like.”

Prairie said, “You can have anything you like, but you’ll have to pay for it.”

Two of the prospective vendors were among the food service conglomerates that service hundreds of school districts nationwide. Aramark’s web site said it serves two million students per day in 420 districts, and Sodexho also serves lunch to more than 400 school districts, according to its Web site. Only one small vendor, Ocean Side Catering, from Newport, attended the meeting.

Mike Graham, from Sodexho, had the most questions for the school board.

Graham was looking at data provided by the school on how many lunches per day were sold. He said that he assumed the reason lunch sales doubled on Fridays was because they were serving pizza. “Have you spoken to any students” about the direction the lunch program is taking, Graham asked.

Julie Kallfelz, the school board’s vice chairwoman, told Graham it was her observation that children will generally choose from what is available to them, and that “we’re not looking for kids to drive the content of the meal program.”

Kaiser said that the school has been talking about making a dra- matic change in the lunch menu for more than six months, and so far, no one has come forward to say it is not a good idea.

Graham said he saw a possibility that kids might start bringing “Twinkies and soda” from home if they can’t get snack items at school.

Kaiser said it was her gut feeling that “we will get parental support” on the healthy lunch initiative.

“There will not be a Twinkie detector” as students are coming into the school building, Kaiser assured the group.

A representative from Aramark said food safety was one of their biggest concerns, in response to the school board’s request to use more locally-grown produce in the lunch program.

Kaiser said that a request for proposal will be put out in January asking the food vendors to “offer only healthy choices every day.” The RFP will ask vendors to eliminate all snack foods, soda, and other choices that do not appear on a list of items that are acceptable.

The vendors will be able to bid on either hot or cold lunch options, which must include whole grains, several servings of fruits and nonfried vegetables per week. At least one fruit or vegetable per day must be a “dark green or orange,” item from a list that includes bok choi, beet and mustard greens, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, mangos, apricots and cantaloupe, among other options. The RFP will also ask for at least one serving per week of cooked legumes, including pinto beans, lima beans and lentils.

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