Par­ents Voice Con­cern Over Break­fast Menu

Let­ter Lays Out Is­sues At School

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

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.

LYNN KUT­TER EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

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.

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