Roughly two months into the school year, the St. Joseph School District is finding a recipe for success in its kitchens.
The district has provided its own food service since classes began in August. Opaa! had previously provided the district’s meals, but the Board of Education decided in March not to renew its contract with the company.
Leah Schmidt, director of nutrition services for the district, said total lunch participation has stayed roughly the same despite a dip in enrollment, while breakfast participation has increased by about 100 meals per day. So far, the district has served an average of about 7,800 lunches and 5,400 breakfasts per day.
“With enrollment down this year, our numbers are pretty comparable to what Opaa! was doing last year,” Ms. Schmidt said. “We still have room for growth, but we’re trying to gain back those meals because they had slumped a little bit.”
In most cases, the new menus have been well-received. For example, the district is once again serving cheesy potatoes — a student favorite that was not available under Opaa!
The return of old dishes can sometimes bring different results among different age groups. When chicken and noodles appeared on Tuesday’s menu for the first time in a couple years, young students were not used to seeing it on their trays. However, so many students wanted the dish at Central High School that the kitchen staff had to make more during the middle of the lunch rush, according to Ms. Schmidt.
“We’ve been tweaking the menus a little bit,” Ms. Schmidt said. “Sometimes you have to offer something two or three times before they know what it is and recognize it.”
Ms. Schmidt said the district plans to hold focus groups so kitchen managers can get feedback from students about the meals — what they like, and what changes the might prefer.
“The best way to do it really is to talk to the kids,” Ms. Schmidt said. “The managers see what the kids are taking, too.”