The Secaucus school board during its June meeting renewed the contract with the food service provider Maschio’s, but they also met with the vendor to discuss a number of concerns that had been raised by parents and students throughout the year.
The concerns included expanding menu choice, employee relations, and improving the presentation of the food. Maschio’s has agreed to address the concerns and will accommodate the request for items like Boar’s Head cold cuts, pizza from a local vendor, and more pasta days.
While students have food preferences related to pizza and pasta, new federal regulations will require that each individual who buys a lunch takes fruits or vegetables. The new standards also require an increase in the quantity of the vegetable and fruit offering and a decrease in the protein and bread components, which has caused mixed reactions. While most support healthy diets, there is concern over lack of choice and the potential for waste if students throw away their fruits or vegetables.
Complaints about the school lunch offerings are not new to the district according to school board president John “Jack” McStowe. He said that the district dealt with similar complaints with the previous food service provider Chartwell’s.
The school district has had four cafeteria managers in four years and two food service companies, according to school board trustee Dora Marra.
The employees have not been satisfied with the managers provided by the food service companies. Each year a new manager has been hired in response to the employee discontent. Last year there was also an incident of hair being found in the food, according to Marra.
“What the parents want and what the kids want are two different things.” – Dora Marra
According to Marra the main concerns relate to the high school lunch specifically. The Student Government Organization provided the school board with a list of requests, such as asking for pizza from a local vendor or for more pasta days.
Despite the criticism from parents and students at informal junctures, the issues did not surface in public forums or when the administration attempted to solicit direct feedback to address the concerns.
“When we would ask the students, they would tell us that everything is fine,” said McStowe, who met with the Student Government Organization.
Business Administrator Ron Smith said the concerns were unfounded and isolated to a few individuals. He said that the administration and Maschio’s had also met with the Parent Teacher Association and that there were no complaints.
Smith said that board trustees ate the food served in the cafeteria and came back with positive remarks. He said the issues equated to individual preference.
“What the parents want and what the kids want are two different things,” said Marra. She noted that parents want their children to eat salad and more vegetables, while the kids want pizza.
“You have to have a balance between the two.”
Maschio’s has addressed all of the requests and the board was satisfied with the outcomes of the latest meeting in June.
First Lady Michelle Obama announced federal changes in the school lunch requirements earlier this year. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Barak Obama.
“They meet the requirements of the national lunch program,” said Smith about Maschio’s.
It was the first time in more than 15 years that the standards have been raised. The new meal requirements reduce salt and fat in addition to requiring more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The five components served at lunch include: protein, bread, fruit, vegetable, and milk.
Next year all students will be required to take a fruit or vegetable component, according to Maschio’s.
The fruit and vegetable serving will also increase from a half-cup to three-quarters of a cup.
“They will see a difference in the size of the bread [and] the size of the protein,” said Chris Traks, regional supervisor and operations manager for Maschio’s Food Services.
Traks noted that the bread and protein serving will decrease. She also added that 51 percent of breads need to be whole grain rich, which she said Maschio’s already meets with their product offerings.
The requirements have had a mixed response.
“I understand we have dietary problem in the country but I also understand that we shouldn’t be telling parents how to feed their kids,” said McStowe. “Shouldn’t the choice between whole wheat and regular pasta be made by us and not by the government?”
“If they put it on their plate, there is a good chance they may eat it, but there is a good chance it will end up in the garbage and I would hate to see that,” said Marra in regard to the fruits and vegetables.
Maschio’s plans on making presentations to the PTA this summer about the changes and will also be at Back to School night to inform the parents of the new regulations.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.