New School Lunch Program Coming to Madison
When students return to school on Tuesday, Sept. 6, they may find more reasons to look forward to their lunch period. Thanks to a change in the district lunch program, students can now expect to see more options when they buy lunch at school.
The Board of Education (BOE) voted to leave the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the State of Connecticut Healthy Foods Certification (HFC) Program in June of this year. BOE Chair Jean Fitzgerald previously said this decision is the best move for the district.
“While the intentions of the NSLP are good, we believe the imposed nutritional constraints prevent us from improving the culinary and financial aspects of our food service program,” she said. “The Madison Public Schools remain committed to providing wholesome, nutritious meals to our students at reasonable prices.”
Chartwells, the company that has managed the district’s food program for years, will continue to serve lunch, but now has more freedom when it comes to portion sizes and food options, according to Director of Administrative Services Arthur Sickle.
“Leaving the NSLP takes away all of the regulations that are associated with it,” he said. “The district is committed to wholesome and nutritious meals, except that we are going to do things like substitute good, fresh breads that are not necessarily 100 percent whole grain.”
Under the new program, the district will be able to expand its offerings to regular pasta, “home-made” pizza, a wider range of sandwiches and wraps, as well as unique à la carte items. Sickle said the district is able to bring local food vendors into the school as well.
“We have a relationship with Cohen’s Bagels and we are looking at local farms,” he said. “We have a huge emphasis on trying to support local businesses and keeping our carbon footprint small. If we can source anything locally, we really want to try and focus on that.”
Now that the district is no longer under the NSLP, Sickle said the schools are going to try and cut down on waste.
“We are going to have lots of fruits and vegetables, but unlike the NSLP we are not going to force the kids to take it because they would take it and throw it away so we are trying to reduce waste in that regard,” he said.
To test out the new lunch offerings, the district served lunch to 200 band camp students at DHHS on Aug. 18. DHHS rising senior Niko Zorba was pleased with the new options.
“Oh my God,” he said. “It is noticeably better than previous years.”
Zorba said with the new options there is a greater chance he will buy lunch at school. The district is hoping the new lunch options will improve participation rates in the lunch program, which had previously hovered at 28 percent according to Sickle.
“Last year when we were on the NSLP, we lost $80,000 even with the subsidies and commodity foods and it has been consistently downhill,” said Sickle. “We are not doing this just because we are losing money—we want the kids to have something they will eat.”
Superintendent of Public Schools Thomas Scarice said he is pleased with the freedom the new program provides.
“I have been very vocal about the one-size fits all model,” he said. “If you unleash professionals from all of these mandates, you get creativity inside and outside the classroom.”
Scarice said he hopes to see more students take advantage of the new offerings.
“It is the hottest new restaurant in town,” he said.