The District Food Service office hosted student focus groups in each of our four schools this week to gather student feedback on meal offerings and solicit ideas for future menu items. “We want to offer meals that are both appealing to students and satisfy state and federal guidelines,” said Executive Director of Finance and Management Services Alicia Koster.
Food Service Principal Account Clerk Danielle Durso, Whitsons Food Director Mary Mills and HMB Child Nutrition Consultant Jim Bigley discussed nutritional guidelines with students and administrators and received useful input that will help to shape the District’s meal service. Among the suggestions were providing dip for vegetables, adding cheese-stuffed breadsticks, expanding Asian food options and, at the high school, fruit smoothies. Mills indicated that menus may reflect some of these requests as early as March.
As part of the focus group, Whitsons introduced a new, grab-and-go style meal kit in two varieties: deconstructed pepperoni pizza (whole wheat French bread, shredded mozzarella, turkey pepperoni pizza sauce and turkey cucumber) and nachos (whole-grain tortilla chips, shredded cheese and salsa). And while students gave a thumbs-up on the ingredients and convenience, they expressed concern about the environmental impact of plastic packaging. Mills pledged to share their concerns with Whitsons, so that the company may consider other packaging options.
Snacks were a popular topic among students. Whitsons representatives explained that, at William O. Schaefer Elementary School, snacks are not offered to ensure that the youngest students focus on eating wholesome meals from home on school. At Cottage Lane Elementary School and South Orangetown Middle School, snack service opens after lunch service has ended, to encourage students to eat lunch first. At Tappan Zee High School, students requested healthy, portable options to fuel them through their day.
The focus groups are part of a broader effort to ensure that all students have access to desirable school meals that meet government nutrition standards. Today is the final day of the District’s first “Free Breakfast Week,” which was immensely successful, with more than 3,700 breakfasts served compared with an average of 600 morning meals in a typical week. “It’s important that all students start their school day with the nutrition they need to build healthy minds and bodies,” said Koster, who plans to work closely with Family Engagement Center Coordinator AJ Walker on continued outreach to reach families in need. “We also encourage families who believe that their children may be eligible to apply for free or reduced-priced lunch. Applications are open year-round and are posted on the Food Services page of our District website.”
Breakfast will be served at Tappan Zee High School during Regents and midterm exams next week, despite the modified schedule.