A Nov. 13 presentation to the Board of Education from leaders with the district’s Food & Nutrition Services sparked some board members to call for a change in how much time students have to eat …
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A Nov. 13 presentation to the Board of Education from leaders with the district’s Food & Nutrition Services sparked some board members to call for a change in how much time students have to eat lunch.
The presentation began with Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Beth Wallace outlining the district’s latest goal, which states that by the 2024-2025 school year, 37% of Jeffco students will participate in school meals. For 2018-2019, about 32% purchased meals, putting the district behind some of its surrounding counterparts.
According to the department’s data, 49% of students in Denver Public Schools participated in school lunch last year, 34% participated in Cherry Creek School District and 43% participated in Adams 12 Five Star Schools.
However, Jeffco’s participation surpassed that of Boulder Valley School District, which weighed in at 27%.
Boulder Valley was also the only surrounding district listed with higher lunch prices than Jeffco, with its lowest-cost option priced at $3.50; Jeffco’s lowest-cost option is $3.25, as is Cherry Creek’s. Denver and Adams 12 offer options for less than $3.
However, Wallace said the answer to increasing participation does not lie in decreasing costs, as can be gleaned from recent data; while Jeffco raised its prices by roughly 40 cents in the past year, participation in school lunch has increased from 30% to 32%.
As for the causes of the increase, “I’m going to compliment Erika (Food and Nutrition Services Director of Operations Erika Edwards) and her team on some great new menu items and listening to feedback,” Wallace said.
But to get to 37% by 2024, the district still needs to make some changes, she said. Namely, the district would like to address the limited time Jeffco students have to eat lunch.
According to a survey conducted by Food & Nutrition Services, elementary students have an average of 20 minutes to eat lunch; middle school students have an average of 30 to 35 minutes; and high school students have an average of 35 minutes, Wallace said.
Board member Brad Rupert centered his comments and questions on this data.
“We can do all the remodels in the world, we can have the greatest menus in the world, but if a kid has to spend seven minutes of their fifteen minutes waiting (in line), they have eight minutes to wolf it all down,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to eat it all, so a lot will go to waste, or they’re going to bring something from home.”
In hopes of finding multiple ways to increase participation, Wallace said her team has focused on “increasing the amount of locally prepared foods available in schools and enhancing the environment in which meals are served.”
The team has incorporated possible strategies to accomplish this in its Food & Nutrition Services Master Plan. The directors aim to present the finalized plan to the board in January 2020.
One main component of the plan is the creation of a “central production facility,” Wallace said. Ideally, local farmers would bring fresh produce to the facility, where workers could then wash and package the produce to be taken to Jeffco schools.
“Food waste occurs because we don’t buy things that are packaged the size that we need here in Jeffco,” she said, but with the facility, employees could “package them (produce) into sizes that would work in our schools.”
While board members Susan Harmon, Ali Lasell and Rupert commended the team for its work on these endeavors, Rupert suggested putting an even greater focus on lengthening lunch times for students.
“It is a problem that we don’t give more time to eat,” he said. “We can’t really fix all of the other things unless we can fix that.”
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