Classes start in East Lyme with new food pro­gram

Self-op­er­ated ser­vice sys­tem is first for town

The Day - - REGION - By KIM­BERLY DRELICH Day Staff Writer

East Lyme — As stu­dents walked the halls of East Lyme High School on the first day of classes on Wed­nes­day, food ser­vice work­ers busily car­ried trays of food, in­clud­ing ham­burg­ers, pulled pork, fries, green beans, salad, fruit and pizza, to set up in the cafe­te­ria for the first day's lunch.

Chris Urban, the district's food ser­vice director, said that af­ter work­ing on the schools' new food ser­vice pro­gram this sum­mer, he was look­ing for­ward to hav­ing the stu­dents in the build­ings — and see­ing the pro­gram grow.

The district this year is start­ing a self-op­er­ated food ser­vice pro­gram for its schools, rather than con­tract with an out­side com­pany.

Urban, who was hired this sum­mer and has worked as food ser­vice director in the Columbia and He­bron school dis­tricts, and also as a food ser­vice con­sul­tant for Thomas­ton and Or­ange public schools, said the food pro­gram will fo­cus on “qual­ity, not quan­tity” and will use fresh pro­duce from lo­cal grow­ers as much as pos­si­ble.

On the first day, lo­cally grown items in­cluded plums, ap­ples and let­tuce, while the yo­gurt bar had a straw­berry rhubarb com­pote made with rhubarb from the gar­den at Flan­ders El­e­men­tary School.

Urban said the dis­trictwide pro­gram will of­fer the same food choices at all of the town's schools and fo­cus on cus­tomer ser­vice.

He said the pro­gram also will work with stu­dents to help build the menus and learn about what foods they like. At open houses to be held at the schools in Septem­ber, par­ents can sam­ple the food.

In past years, the school district had con­tracted with the com­pany Chartwells.

Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools Jef-

frey New­ton said the district moved to its own pro­gram this year to pro­vide bet­ter qual­ity food, in­clud­ing in­gre­di­ents from lo­cal farms, and have bet­ter con­trol over costs and mar­ket­ing in a self-sus­tain­ing pro­gram. He said stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pre­vi­ous pro­gram was down, ex­cept at the mid­dle school, and the school district had to use its op­er­at­ing bud­get to off­set some pro­gram costs.

He said the pro­gram also will pro­vide new ways to en­gage with stu­dents. For ex­am­ple, stu­dents trav­el­ing with sports teams or clubs can pre-or­der snacks or meals to take with them on the road. The district also is work­ing on de­vel­op­ing a mo­bile app so stu­dents can pre-or­der meals.

The new pro­gram in­cludes plans for spe­cial-themed lunches, Urban said. An NFLthemed kick­off party — with foot­ball high­lights shown on TV screens — will tie in pro­mot­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity with the nu­tri­tion com­po­nent of the stu­dents’ meals. A “beach day” lunch in the mid­dle of win­ter will fea­ture a trop­i­cal-themed menu and smooth­ies to take stu­dents’ minds off the snow.

“We want to raise par­tic­i­pa­tion, but we also want to make lunchtime fun again,” Urban said.

He said lunchtime is stu­dents’ so­cial growth time, so food ser­vice per­son­nel want to make sure lunch is an en­joy­able event, rather than just hav­ing stu­dents eat their lunch and go back to class.

The cost of lunch — $2.75 for el­e­men­tary stu­dents, $3.25 for mid­dle school stu­dents, and $3.50 for high school stu­dents — re­mains the same as last year.

Karla Sul­li­van, the head cook at the high school who has worked with the school district for 19 years, said the new food ser­vice pro­gram has fewer food op­tions than last year, which means less waste. She said it also will al­low the food ser­vice work­ers, the same staff as last year, the time to fo­cus on bet­ter qual­ity, rather than hav­ing to rush to put out too many items.

She is look­ing for­ward to hav­ing more in­ter­ac­tion with stu­dents through the new pro­gram: “We’re part of the com­mu­nity,” she said.

DANA JENSEN/THE DAY

Head cook Karla Sul­li­van serves stu­dents dur­ing lunchtime on the first day of classes at East Lyme High School on Wed­nes­day.

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