Parents give district food service mixed reviews
The likelihood that a child will eat the food served in Upper Arlington school cafeterias gets an A on the parental grading scale and the food earns a B for healthiness, but the length of time a child has to stand in line to be served gets only a D.
That's among the information gleaned from a survey conducted by the district's food service department and reported to the school board at a special meeting April 29.
Brian Roe, of Ohio State University, and his research assistant, Matthew Pham, conducted the survey at no cost to the district. It covered "lunch attitudes," open lunch and lunch purchase factors.
Pham said 84 percent of survey respondents said they believe school lunches "have a few healthy items served each week" and 64 percent of respondents said they believed school lunches have become healthier.
He said more than 50 percent of respondents support the open lunch policy at the high school and 51 percent said friends eating off-campus is the primary reason students leave the school campus for lunch.
However, Chris Potts, executive director of business, said the fact that only 247 parents took the survey "was disappointing."
"We have a lot of parents in our district and we had hoped we would get more responses," he said.
He said parents who responded indicated they would encourage their children to buy lunch if the district would offer more entrees made from scratch; fresher, whole foods; and items with reduced sugar and carbohydrate content.
"The parents did not realize that a lot of our foods are made from scratch," he said. "But we have used some of the information based on this research to change some of the foods we have been offering since October."
Roe said "healthiness" took a distinct second to "palatability" in areas of the survey.
"We asked, if your child was presented this (a certain food), do you think they would eat it and how healthy do you think it is?" he said.
Most of the respondents were from Jones, then Greensview and Barrington. Only 45 respondents were parents of high school students.
Potts said food service personnel are offering samples of different kinds of foods to students on "Try it Tuesdays."
"We wanted to see if kids will try new things," he said. "If they like that food, then it could be added to the next week's menu."
JoAnna Brooks, director of food services, said new federal lunch guidelines adopted by the district last fall mean offering only whole-grain breads and more fruits and vegetables, including some students may not be used to eating.
"We have to be really creative in presenting things like legumes in hope that students will eat them," she said.
Brooks said her department held a Parent Food Show last September, where parents were able to learn more about the new federal guidelines and meet representatives from several major food manufacturing companies, including Tyson, JennieO, General Mills and others.
The department is also experimenting with a "Grab and Go" a la carte system at Barrington Elementary.
Brooks said food offerings are wrapped separately and presented in displays and on small counters so students can "grab and go," instead of standing in long cafeteria lines.
"We also bought a piece of equipment with a warmer so when we bring Donatos pizza in or offer our school pizza, we can put the slices of pizza in small personal pizza boxes," she said. "We have been seeing fewer leftovers and kids are not feeding the trash bins as much."
Potts said Brooks has made trips to other school districts to study what works.
"Students seem to like the grab-and-go a la carte lunches and how it makes them feel independent," he said.