The bread is denser, the breading on the chicken tastes funny and pizza day is unrecognizable.
According to board member Heather Ronco's report to the Chester School Board, the students of the Chester Consolidated School District are dealing with the changes to their lunchroom since the end of the last school year.
“The kids are complaining about the sandwiches,” Ronco said. “And pizza day has ceased to exist as they knew it.”
Last year, Ronco volunteered to meet with Denise Liptak, the food service director to discuss changes in the cafeteria. During the last school year Ronco helped initiate the Health and Wellness Committee, which focused on nutrition and physical fitness.
“At that time I, along with committee members, toured all three of our cafeterias then recommended improvements including signage and presentation,” Ronco said. “I felt this was a continuation of the last school year's work and I already had familiarity with the operations of the cafeterias.”
The reason for the changes are the federal guidelines for nutrition that the food vendor, Sodexho, is having difficulty catching up with.
“They didn’t have a lot of time to make the adjustments,” Ronco said.
One of the major changes is that to meet the federal guidelines, this year all grains served must be 50 percent whole grain and by next year 100 percent. According to Ronco, because the changes happened so quickly, vendors weren’t able to catch up.
Ronco has spoken to K-5 students and parents, where the majority of the unrest is.
“The middle school kids haven't complained as much I think for two main reasons,” Ronco said. “One, all of the food prep for the Chester District takes place at Black River so they get food fresh out of the oven and also have a much broader menu with more choices than the Bragg and Dickerson cafeterias. Secondly, by middle school the kids are growing like crazy, are hungry and expanding their palate.”
One thing everyone seems to be lamenting is the absence of bagels.
“We haven’t been able to offer bagel bag,” Ronco said. “Not just because of the grain requirement, but we have calorie limits. We don’t have the right sized bagel, but they are working on it. “
Dominos pizza, who used to supply the school on pizza day, has been replaced by a different, healthier alternative. Other changes included legumes offered once a week, and the inclusion of more orange vegetables.
“Right now French fries are baked and offered less frequently,” Ronco said. “And sometimes they are sweet potato fries.”
Business Administrator Maryjane Canose said the reimbursement on the school lunch program is substantial and the board agreed it was worthwhile to try to maintain compliance.
While the changes might be jarring for students, Ronco said that Sodexho was working hard with their vendors to round out the menu.
“Not much for us to do except wait for the vendors,” Ronco said. “And we don’t want to feed the kids junk.”