South Orangetown Central School District

The South Orangetown Central School District is placing “greater attention on food service” as it looks at current operations, according to Executive Director of Finance and Management Alicia Koster. So far this school year, the District has hired a new vendor, introduced Free Breakfast Week (January 13-17), made breakfast available during midterms week at Tappan Zee High School and held student focus groups at each of the four schools.

“First, we want to make sure that all students are eating and that all kids who need to eat can access meals at school,” Koster notes, citing that breakfast participation skyrocketed from a typical 130 meals daily to 640 meals a day during Free Breakfast Week. The Finance and Management Office is working with the Family Engagement Center to identify families who may need additional support. “ We’re going to feed all kids.”

The District is also giving attention to the meals offered and how they’re delivered. “Compliance with state and federal regulations is not our sole focus. We want to develop a program that is student-centered and rooted in their needs,” Koster says. “Students told us that they want time-efficient, accessible and nutritious options. I loved their ideas about more flexible access to healthy meals through fresh vending during and after school.”

In fact, student feedback has already begun to shape offerings, including dip for vegetables (available at elementaries), Asian entrees and smoothies (starting in March at secondaries) and tacos (all schools). The District’s vendor is exploring more eco-friendly packaging for grab-and-go options introduced during the focus groups, as well as cold vending machines that would enable payment via PIN, cash and/or debit card.

Reimagining food service will require much more than changing menus. Building schedules and cafeteria and kitchen spaces are also being considered in the planning process. Renovations focused on the seating area and serving lines at Tappan Zee High School are planned for this summer, with a future second phase to tackle the kitchen and expanding space for student use.

“We need to move beyond the 1950s standard of food service,” adds Koster.