Parents Voice Concern Over Breakfast Menu
Letter Lays Out Issues At School
PRAIRIE GROVE — A group of moms have approached school officials with concerns about the quality and quantity of food being served at Prairie Grove Elementary School.
Prairie Grove’s food service program is managed by a private company, Aramark. Prairie Grove School Board approved a contract with Aramark in May 2015. This is Aramark’s first year to operate food service for Prairie Grove, but the company manages nutrition services for other districts in Arkansas, including Lincoln and Bentonville schools.
Dr. Allen Williams, superintendent of schools, and other school administrators met with the moms in early February. Williams told School Board members about the concerns at their February meeting. At the time, he said he would meet with Aramark representatives and would follow up on the concerns.
One of the parents, Sarah Nunn, said the group’s main concern is breakfast at the elementary school and the lack of a protein on the menu. Other problems, she said, are that the cafeteria runs out of certain foods before lunch period is over and that cafeteria employees have resigned throughout the year, resulting in a shortage of workers.
The parents submitted a letter to the school district outlining
specific concerns. They said, for example, that the company served sugary and overly processed foods at breakfast, such as chocolate chunk bars or animal crackers.
Juice has been served frozen solid and on another occasion, the lunch entree consisted of iceberg lettuce topped with cheese, milk to drink and a breadstick.
The shortage of staff has affected the time it takes to serve children, the letter also states.
After the parents submitted their concerns, Williams met with Aramark staff to discuss the issues. The school district also sent out a survey asking parents what they thought about the food service.
Williams said results from the survey will help the district see if other parents feel the same way or if the concerns are just those of a small group.
Nunn said the parents have two main requests. They would like a protein served at breakfast and would like to have a parent representative meet with Aramark on a monthly basis just to have conversation, not to have any authority.
“At home we may have high aspirations but here, we’re just trying to be simple,” Nunn said last week. “Offer a sausage biscuit and less sugar. Whole grain is buried in sugar.”
Lesa Owens, Aramark Food Service director for Prairie Grove and Lincoln, said the company follows all federal and state guidelines for meals and offers all components required for reimbursable meals for breakfast and lunch.
Prairie Grove Elementary School serves breakfast in the classroom and that limits what can be served. Cereal with milk in a bowl, for example, cannot be served in the classroom.
“We try to offer more than the minimum and offer varieties,” Owens said Thursday.
For breakfast, federal guidelines require whole grains, fruit and milk — but protein is not one of the required components. Many times Aramark offers a protein item at breakfast, Owens said. A banana muffin with string cheese, for instance, is one of the menus offered at breakfast.
The March menu includes a chicken biscuit on some days and an egg, cheese and sausage sandwich. Other items are French toast sticks, pancakes on stick, and cinnamon bun crunch.
Owens said she made one change after hearing rumors about concerns. Aramark was offering two choices for breakfast, such as a cereal bar or pancake on a stick. Now, children are receiving one item, such as the pancake on a stick. Children, however, are asking for cereal bars and Pop Tarts, she said.
She said Aramark is willing to meet with parents about their concerns. She said she was caught somewhat by surprise by the concerns, because no one came to her with complaints. She heard about them from other people.
Carmel Perry, director of the School’s Coordinated Health program, said she’s heard complaints and said the quality of the breakfast probably is not what it should be.
Perry noted that serving breakfast in the classroom is meant to specifically reach those children who are not able to eat at home.
Statistics show children do better in school if they’ve eaten breakfast and it is also proven, Perry said, that more kids will eat if it is in a group setting, similar to family time.
“Now are they getting fed what we would feed them at home? No. Would we love it if they were? Yes. But it’s better to get something in your stomach than nothing,” Perry said.
As superintendent, Williams said his main concern is staffing.
“They’ve had problems keeping a staff,” he said, pointing out he thought with a change this would be the case at the first of the year but — by the second semester he thought everything would have worked out.
“Staffing is a cut-and-dry issue,” he said. “We’ve got to get it where the product can be delivered.”
If staffing remains a problem, he said the district may have to reconsider its contract with Aramark for 2016-17.
The contract allows either party to cancel the agreement at the end of the year with a 60-day notice.
Kindergarten students at Prairie Grove Elementary School enjoy pizza for lunch Friday. A group of parents have voiced concerns about cafeteria food, in particular items offered for breakfast in the classroom.