Jessica D’Agnese, our district’s Food Services Coordinator, answers some of the frequently asked questions we receive about school lunches. Jessica is a registered dietitian and has managed our school lunch program since 2008.
A: We serve about 2,500-3,000 lunches daily.
Q: What is currently the most popular and least popular lunch item?
A: Pasta is the most popular. I think the least popular meal this year would be the egg and cheese sandwiches.
Q: Do all schools have “full” kitchens for preparing foods? Do some only warm up food prepared elsewhere?
A: The three larger schools (Glastonbury High School, Smith Middle School, Gideon Welles) have full-service kitchens. Each of these schools prepares and satellites out to two elementary schools. Some of the menu items are prepared at the larger schools and sent out fully cooked. Some are cooked at the elementary schools. We try to create menus that will split the cooking between both the large and small schools so no school kitchen is overwhelmed.
Q: Are our kitchen facilities inspected?
A: The Health Department inspects each of our nine kitchens four times a year.
Q: School lunch prices have increased slightly over the last couple of years. Does the program break-even in the school budget?
A: Not at this point. But, the School Food Service Department is working towards being a completely self-funded department in order to cover expenses which include, but are not limited to food, training, equipment replacement/repair, wages and benefits.
Q: How do you prepare the monthly menus?
A: I try to prepare the monthly menus based on the government commodities we receive. We also use our freezer inventory as soon as possible and rotate on a "first-in/first-out" basis. There are some menu items that remain the same from month to month.
Q: What are some of the menu requirements imposed by the state or federal government?
A: School lunches must meet applicable guidelines of the 1995 Dietary Guidelines of Americans which recommend no more than 30% of an individual's calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat. These regulations also establish a standard for school lunches to provide one third of the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories. In addition, we receive an annual grant for our participation in the state’s Healthy Food Certification Program. This program focuses on limiting fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugar as well as moderating portion sizes and promoting nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Q: To what extent do we receive government commodity foods or buy locally?
A: Each district receives commodity dollars based on the number of meals served two years prior. We can use these monies on a wide selection of food items. To control costs, we try to use as much commodity money as we can for the entrée items. We are fortunate enough to be in a town with several local farms, so we purchase as much local produce as possible such as apples, pears, peaches and plums. If the quality meets our standards, we may purchase other items such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash. We also purchase grinder rolls, whole wheat dinner rolls, and a variety of sliced breads from a local bakery.
Q: To what extent are common food allergies accommodated in the menu creation?
A: All of our reimbursable meal items are peanut-free. Although we continue to serve peanut butter in our schools, we have very strict guidelines as to how it is prepared and served. We try to accommodate as many food allergies as possible. This can prove to be challenging with all of the emerging allergies in recent years. One that has become more prevalent recently is an allergy to gluten. We are trying to expand our menu to include more gluten-free items to make our school lunches available to a greater number of our students.
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