School district food service goes healthy, loses money
A detailed presentation on how the Upper Dublin School District Food Service is faring in its attempt to serve more healthy foods dominated the school board’s Sept. 10 meeting.
In August 2011, the board approved new wellness regulations and in December of last year passed administrative guidelines aimed at adding nutritional choices to the school menus and eliminating ingredients on a 15-item “avoid list” such as trans fats, sodium and artificial coloring. A Nutrition Advisory Committee was set up to help accomplish the task, with four citizen members appointed by the board Monday night.
Last year, changes to the menu were made in preparation of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which resulted in limiting menu choices and introducing a number of activities to teach the children in the district schools about proper nutrition. The food service even launched a Wikispace page on the offerings and nutrition and has started a Facebook page.
Under the federal act, which must be followed in order to get reimbursements for the free and reduced lunches, a fruit or vegetable must be part of every meal. In addition to closely monitoring the ingredients in every item offered to conform to the federal guidelines, food service needs to try to offer menu choices the students will actually want to buy.
The changes reduced the number of à la carte items, as well. Of 95 snack items available through one distributer, only 28 would meet the district’s ingredient specifications, according to data presented. The size of the offerings has also been reduced for some items, which is another drawback, particularly at the secondary level, district officials said.
“It’s a complicated situation the food service is in,” said district Food Service Director Patti Dell’Aringa.
As a result of the menu changes, sales were down last year, district Business Administrator Brenda Bray said. In addition, some staff changes and an increase in the retirement rate and salaries.
Food service revenues for last year were down $100,000 from the prior year. Figures presented showed a loss of $151,121 for the year ending June 30, 2012, compared to a loss of $25,589 for the year ending June 2011.
“The big loss was à la carte items last year,” Bray said. “When there is more demand, there will be better cost. It’s a slow process; it’s going to take time.”
Money from the general fund will have to be transferred to the food service fund, which is separate, to make up for the loss, she said.
The only bright spot, according to the data presented, was offering sushi last year, which proved very popular at the high school.
“It’s a lot more complicated than it appears,” Superintendent Michael Pladus said. “If we spent as much on supplies as we did in previous years, the bottom line would have looked worse.”
Dell’Aringa said the food service is hoping to cut its losses this year through a partnership in which it is supplying meals to students at Our Lady of Mercy and a possible vending program offering healthy snacks.
Board Vice President Debbie Mendelson asked Dell’Aringa if the students had been asked what they wanted to eat.
“That’s something we need to do,” Dell’Aringa said. “We want to get the students to ‘like’ us on Facebook, and then we would get answers to some of our questions immediately.”
A few parents were not completely satisfied with the nutritional attempts made thus far. One asked why high fructose corn syrup was not on the avoid list. Another suggested avoid list items should not be in any of the food offerings.
“This is not about profit; it’s about doing what’s right for our children,” one parent said.
On the other hand, resident Anita Brister said, “As a taxpayer I am concerned about cost. I do want the board to be looking at the bottom line.”
The challenge, Pladus said, is “to promote better nutrition but pay attention to our bottom line.”
Pattie Moor speaks with state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152, during the Legislative Summer Fun Night in Franklin Park in Maple Glen. Nancy Williams, right, chief of staff for state Rep. Tom Murt, and Kim Coulton help Luke Hamill to some water ice during a...
Allie DeMichele waits to catch a water balloon during a Legislative Summer Fun Night held by state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152, at Franklin Park in Maple Glen.