By ALICIA LEONARD
The school lunch lady is an iconic image. Adam Sandler wrote an homage to her, almost every classic high school movie has a scene with her and her hair net, but the reality is in America, the state of school lunch rooms may cause many cafeteria workers to have to seek other employment if they can’t make them solvent and self-supporting..
On the evening of Jan. 16, 2018 the Walton County School Board (WCSB) listened to a report and looked to a plan to keep school lunch ladies, food service workers, and hair nets in the place they belong, school cafeterias.
It’s not unusual to see restaurants pop up and shut down quickly in most areas of our country. The business is hard – balancing prices for goods served versus costs of materials, employees, and more.
Restaurant ownership is hard work, and with more and more choice for consumers many see declining sales in lunch time crowds over the last decade nationwide.
School cafeterias and school lunches have been a point of discussion since the ‘50s. They face layers of requirements from federal and state entities, all the while trying to feed children in Walton and other districts across the country that might be getting the majority of their day’s nutrition from that one meal.
Extension.org sums up the conundrum well, ”Imagine running your own restaurant with a captive audience of customers who eat lunch each day. Now imagine providing these customers a complete, five component meal that consists of a meat entrée, fruit, vegetable, whole grain item and milk. Finally, imagine having only $2.93 to purchase the items necessary to provide this entire meal!
“And don’t forget the other things you need to run your restaurant and prepare those meals – things like equipment, (ovens, stoves, coolers, freezers), electricity, small wares (pots, pans, dishes, serving utensils) and all of the wages and benefits for your staff. That is what school cafeterias all over the United States do each and every day!”
Robert Martin, Food and Nutrition Service Program Administrator for the district, told the board in his presentation. “These are goals that Mr. Hughes mandated in our joint effort to make food services solvent and maintain jobs as we commit this year to fiscal responsibility to the schools, the district, and the taxpayers.”
His report also stated, “Cannot stress enough the importance of the number of jobs on the line. We either need to make money or administrators will be on the phone with Mr. Hughes cutting jobs at year’s end.”
The three top goals presented were to increase participation, improve presentation, and create invitation.
Some ways to do that were to offer more entree choices, grab and go meals, establish a-la cart sales, and focus on fruits while varying vegetables offered on menus.
Components of these goals included the source of products offered, discontinuing Styrofoam trays, equipment to improve the crispness of food, and using a more merchandise direction for grab-n-go reimbursable meals, and fresh fruit cups.
Also mentioned was improving the atmosphere where students eat. Student feedback and involvement also come into play, he said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) recently awarded the district with a 2017 National School Lunch Program Equipment Assistance Grant for $63,380, which will help with some goals.
Martin said the district is on track right now with its goals and it’s working on improving ways to make paying for lunches easier, and for ways the district can collect past due funds from parents faster and easier.
He also hopes that families, students and PTOs in the south end of the county will become more involved and supportive of the district’s food services in those schools. Schools in the south end of Walton show the lowest participation numbers.
To see the entire presentation readers can go to www.walton.k12.fl.us, click on the Jan. 16, 2018 5 p.m.meeting notice on the district’s calendar feature and open the full agenda starting at page 124.