Thursday, March 05, 2009

School Lunches coming from Central Kitchen

As part of the presentation to the Board from Nutrition Services, came the news that they propose serving secondary schools - middle and high schools - from the Central Kitchen starting in Fall 2009.

That means that the school breakfasts and lunches for the nine comprehensive middle schools (for some reason the slide says 10) and the ten comprehensive high schools will come from the Central Kitchen at the JSCEE just as 87 school sites are now served, including all elementary schools and special programs (Interagency, etc.).

While pizzas will still be assembled at the school buildings and they will cook the grill items (hamburgers) there, anything that doesn't come prepared and pre-packaged will come from the Central Kitchen and only be heated at the schools.

There are conflicting opinions about how this will impact food quality, but it will certainly reduce costs and result in lost hours if not lost jobs for the nutrition services workers in the buildings.

It is possible, however, that revenues will be down more than costs if a signficant number of students will choose not to eat the school lunch from the Central Kitchen.

It makes me wonder about the capital expense put into the kitchen space and equipment at the school buildings - kitchen space and equipment that we won't be using.

25 comments:

seattle citizen said...

Bleah...Pre-packaged cardboard.

It's possible that central preparation might result in efficiencies, and if one thoughtfully it might result in better food (they'll spend the saved money on quality ingredients, right?!)

But...good food services are crucial to academics, to community, and to the health of the students.
Well-fed bodies are well-fed minds. TASTY and NUTRICIOUS food, particularly breakfast and lunch, serves to increase learning because students are healthy and their tummies are appeased.
The community of the school is served by lunch time itself (if it's enticing - bad food sends students off-campus or into the halls for bag lunchs...if they can afford them...) The gathering of students in the lunch rooms is a good social time for students and staff alike (and the lunchroom staff are a part of that relational connection).

A bad idea. Rather, the district should aim to increase market share by increasing the quality, healthfulness and diversity of offerings. Are there studies that show costs of these increased "buffet" or deli? offerings in schools? That show benefits?
Did anyone cite any of these studies (I'm sure plenty exist) during this decision making, or was it merely "cut costs cut costs cut costs?

Keepin'On said...

I think this will result in drop of lunch use. The biggest shock to me when I had kids hit middle and high school was that they thought the lunches were so much better than at the elementary school level, precisely because they were made on site.

Now I can see local lunch vendors rubbing their hands together in glee around high schools, as droves will exit the buildings to escape the lower quality lunch they will be served. Middle schoolers will begin packing lucnh from home I am sure.

Nice job Seattle Schools! Good to see the brainpower behind late (whoops I mean earlier) start times for high schools and not elementaries, the student assignment plan upcoming debacle, and all the others mess ups from this district, is still operating at full capability.

Sahila said...

My son, who is a picky eater anyway, wont touch the stuff that's on offer in the lunch room at AS#1.... provided by the District.... looking at it, I cant blame him...

Healthy, nutritious, freshly prepared and cooked food feeds the brain as well as the body.... stands to reason that if you're committed to providing food anyway, and you're interested in improving academic performance - "Excellence for All" and all those lofty ideals - you'd want to provide good quality food, wouldn't you???????

Or is that just a little too naive and idealistic of me?

But wait, that would mean you would have to spend money.... and seeing you've decided its OK to make little kids stand outside in the dark to wait for their rides to school, its not a big leap to decide to serve them up cheap, processed, filler junk....

Josh Hayes said...

Well, a single data point: my mom was in town last week and we stopped at Bengal Tiger for lunch (it's, duh, an Indian restaurant, with a small but potent lunch buffet) on Wednesday -- it's on Roosevelt just north of NE 65th St.

It. Was. PACKED. And who were all these people eating lunch?

Roosevelt High School kids. It's a no-brainer: you take high-school age boys (and girls too, probably), and give them a BUFFET, of reasonably healthy and interesting food, and the kitchen is frantically cooking saag paneer and butter chicken. If it's already this way, it'll only be more so next year.

Do we have data on what fraction of HS kids eat lunch provided at the school?

Charlie Mas said...

About 42% of students eat the school lunch.

Remember that about 45% of them can have it for free.

Josh Hayes said...

Thanks, Charlie, but I was interested specifically in the high school kids. Do you have numbers broken down by K-8 and 9-12?

Syd said...

Food for thought:

Olympia district's farm-to-school program a role model


Olympia Organic Choices


No Lunch Left Behind


Results Of The Third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study


School Lunch Nutrition Standards Haven't Been Updated In 30 Years


Schools can improve nutritional value of food while increasing revenue, says report

Sahila said...

Syd...

I've often thought I might one day begin a crusade to get fresh, local organic food into schools and hospitals, but been a bit preoccupied with other fights - such as keeping our school open and raising a ruckus about this early start time etc...

Had to spend some time in hospital over the past three or four years and couldnt believe the awful food they were dishing up, and poorly presented at that on plastic dishware... poor selections, over cooked so that all the nutrition was leached out and pre-packaged junk full of artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives.... and all of this was supposed to nourish the bodies of sick people and get them back to health...

Its the same in schools....

Why cant we teach kids about the food cycle, ecologically sustainable farming and healthy eating/fitness in class and then show them the product of that by presenting them with organic, in season fruits, vegetables, protein, grains etc, in an appetising, aesthetically pleasing manner.... dont our kids - especially those who are disadvantaged and might not get this at home - deserve that?

Cara said...

Here's an interesting take on why school lunches are so carb heavy and thus less nutritious:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/402618_will08.html

Cara said...

Orca at Whitworth has a nutrition committee that has helped the school incorporate an organic salad bar and organic apples and other snacks into the school day.

KG said...

Bulkinization or Bulkadministration


“Bulkanization” (don’t bother looking it up in Webster) of the Secondary schools in Seattle is a pure sham and here is why:

This weekend in the newspaper, there was an article about the Superintendent and the fact she says she has no stress and loses no sleep over her decisions. This is a CEO type mentality that destroys our world and does nothing to make it better and many things to make it worse. This article tells me, as the reader, that the conscience of this person is non-existent or very close to it.

One of those decisions being made unbeknownst to the general public is to move food services from “production kitchens” (at some of the schools) to total “BULK” services – all meals cooked at the Stanford Center and trucked to all the schools DAILY. (Diesel fuel prices are high and more drivers will have to be hired and some food service employees will lose their jobs – in short, the District will not be saving money in their quest to “bulkinize” all the schools in the District for food service… Food services actually returns money to the District general fund through Federal reimbursement.)

Food service is just another vehicle to drive the District closer to a business model for a profit entity where the CEO makes “millions a year” and the rest of us fight for the leftovers.

This morning (11 March 2009) there was an article about the Bill Gates Foundation indicating he has headed up donating 9 million dollars over the next three years because of the work of the school board and superintendent. We as public employees should always be wary of the underlying reasons this kind of money is donated, especially since the school board is more business friendly and the superintendent is from a right to work state. All three of the before mentioned groups is a nightmare for classified union represented employees.

The District continues to trim jobs of some of the lowest paid employees it has and continues to add to the “BULKADIMINISTRATION” it has. This is a sad thing for the students of Seattle Schools as well as the employees. Food service jobs are jobs our kids will fill someday, but these jobs won’t be there for them to go to once the “BULKADMINISTRATION“ gets its way. We all know the reasons for Seattle Schools success, or their lack of it, happens in the cubicles of the “great shrine” not in the buildings where the work really gets done.

RH said...

 
To Whom It May Concern:
 
I am a security specialist currently assigned to Roosevelt High School. I strongly believe this proposal, if implemented, would become a safety concern for the students and a negative financial experience for the school cafeteria. Please allow me to explain these concerns.
 
I have worked as a security specialist at Roosevelt High School for nine years. Prior to that, I was a Los Angeles Police Officer for twenty-one years. It has been my experience, and especially since working for the Seattle School District, that most of the security problems come from outside sources. Since being assigned to Roosevelt I feel I have had the opportunity to really know most of the students. I can't speak for other schools but I think I really know a lot about what these kids like and don't like. The cafeteria at RHS does an excellent job of providing a fresh and varied menu to the students and the staff. The quality and preparation of the food is second to none. The service given to the students and adults by the entire cafeteria staff is superb. I believe that your proposal would cause a severe decline in the number of students and staff eating at the school cafeteria.
 
Without the quality and the combination of all the choices offered by our cafeteria I believe that 50% to 70% of the students will go off campus to other locations. There are numerous restaurants in the immediate vicinity of RHS. This proposal could also bring in the illegal vendors of food we have dealt with in the past. That alone could be a real health and safety concern. Once the kids leave the campus for lunch we can not protect them. In the past the greatest danger to our students has come from outside sources. Most recently there were incidents of assaults, armed robberies and strong arm robberies where all of the suspects involved were members of street gangs and all of the incidents occurred off campus. Other issues that have come up in the past include drug dealing, drug use, alcohol consumption and a general tardiness in returning to classes after lunch. With an increased number of students in the neighborhood we will be receiving more calls of loitering and trespassing. As you know, we have an open campus policy at school. Once the students leave it's hard to get them back. It's impossible to protect them.
 
I believe there are several examples, including the Garfield Daily Meal Equivalent Chart, showing the negative financial aspects of this proposal. I understand the reasons regarding the costs but my main concern remains the safety for these students. It would not only be a great disservice to the students, the school and the community if your proposal is approved, it could easily be a very dangerous decision. I urge you to reconsider this proposal.
 
Security Specialist, Roosevelt High School

RH said...

I have worked for Nutrition Services in the Seattle School District for over 16 years, as a baker and a lunchroom assistant. My co-workers and I have always taken pride in serving fresh cooked and healthy meals for chilldren.

The new bulk kitchen model that is being proposed for all middle and high schools is very short sighted. How will we keep the quality and service we give to food preparations for the children? The proposal has us trucking in prepared meals and having them reheated a second and third time. In this day and age when we hear of unhealthy eating habits and childhood obesity, we should be continuing to serve freshly cooked and nutritious food to appeal to our children's needs and tastebuds. The bulk kitchen proposal would result in children looking elsewhere for eye-appealing fast foods or they will choose not to eat at all. Neither of these choices is the one we want our kids to make.

They would also be spending more time waiting in line to receive the food because of proposed labor cuts. The combination of these things will result in a drop in participation levels never seen before. This has been documented. When Garfield High School went to bulk service in the past, the participation rates plummeted. The quality of the food suffered and children chose not to participate in the lunch program resulting in poor numbers and even poorer nutrition. It is well known that kids need a fresh quality meal to learn and stay focused. This has been proven. A second example is the Bellevue School District who tried the bulk method and failed. As a result of their experience they have now resumed full cooking kitchens and participation has risen.

The real question is do we want to feed our youth just frozen and reheated foods? I strongly believe we need to appeal to our growing children's needs both in a visual and nutritional way. They will not eat what does not look good to them.

A sixth grade student is so excited to come to a middle school lunchroom. They can't believe the difference between the food options and the freshness they currently get in middle school versus what they previously received in elementary school. We hear it over and over again from our students. If our overall goal is to feed our children nutritious, freshly prepared, appetizing foods which will enable them to learn and grow, then we will be failing them by deciding to switch to a bulk kitchen.

Nutrition Services is trying to expedite this changeover quickly without looking to the long term effects.

-A parent and employee

SSDemp said...

I have had the pleasure of serving as a school counselor in Seattle Public Schools for many years and I share a commitment to the children of our fine city. The current budgetary issues loom large for all of us in the district and we know difficult and painful cuts must be made.
I am writing out of concern about the possibility of cuts to the staff in our school kitchen. The Middle School community is privileged to be served by our kitchen staff. One might think that delicious, freshly prepared, nutritious cuisine was the only mission of a kitchen staff. Yes, our kitchen does serve up delicious, fresh, hot meals day after day. What doesn't get measured on the tally sheet is the climate that our full kitchen staff creates for our whole school, for the students and for the rest of the staff. Our lunchroom is a place of love and warmth. New students are gently teased and cajoled out of their initial shyness. Established students are served comfort and care along with the best school lunch food most of us have ever eaten. Also, all of the members of our kitchen staff are often the eyes and the ears to subtle problems kids might bring to school. I can't count the number of times that our kitchen manager, has come to me with a concern over a change in a student's weight, mood, appearance, or appetite. Often, we are able to address these concerns early because one of our kitchen staff noticed a slight but significant change in a student. Our students know they are loved when they enter the lunchroom and that very safety and warmth are a balm to the chaos or lack that many of them experience in their personal lives.
Nutritionally, it will be distressing to have food prepared and delivered to us from off site. I am sure the central kitchen does a fine job, but most people would agree that food shipped across town never tastes as good as food prepared fresh and served straight from the oven by a loving crew. Students who don't get fresh, home cooked meals count on our staff to fill this basic need for them. Our kitchen staff constitutes a vital piece of the important and varied services we offer to our students. They are family to our kids.
Please keep our kitchen staff at the current level so that our school community can continue to benefit from the freshly prepared, lovingly served, daily breakfasts and lunches. Please keep our kitchen staff at the current level so that our students can continue to be served by their love, support and comfort.

Mike said...

Here's another thought. Why did we pay for all those new state of the art kitchens in the new schools if their plan was to go to a bulk delivery model? Hammilton and Denny/Sealth are under construction and will have full production kitchens in them. What a waste. We should all demand freshly prepared meals for our kids.

VL said...

The worst thing we have heard in all this is that we learned from the workers protesting this plan at the board meeting last week that despite 30 of them losing their jobs, not a single employee who administers or manages this department would lose theirs even with that much less to do.

Isn't that just the seattle schools way of doing things? Lay off dozens of workers who directly serve our kids each day and keep a full crew (and we understand there are double as many as a few years ago) of administrators.

Despite the fact that the latest performance audit by the state auditor showed seattle SD with 39% more administrators than their peer districts, overall less than a third of this years lay offs will be those administrators who work warm and cozy downtown and never even see a kid. A move like this will probably give them 45% over those peer district especially if the board give the superintendent another 10% raise this year at the same time.

I agree with KG. This is a crime!

PN said...

I am concerned the nutrition services production in our secondary schools. It has to my attention that the central kitchen downtown would be preparing the meals and then be brought to the different schools. This would be a shame if that happened at McClure.

I eat at a Middle School’s cafeteria everyday along with many of the other staff members. The food is delicious and nutritious. The lunchroom is always full of kids for breakfast and lunch. The kitchen provides the students and staff with choices for both meals. When I go into the lunchroom, the lunch ladies always have smiles for the kids, know their names, care about what they do, and make sure everyone gets a well balanced meal, which goes for me too.

I’ve been at this Middle School for six years teaching 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. Every year the students have to write a persuasive essay about something they would like to change in the school. I can honestly say that I have never had one student complain about the cafeteria food or the staff. When I was in school that was all we ever complained about. They are like a family and to change that would be a shame not just for them but for the school as a whole.

Everyone is aware that the Seattle School District is in a financial crisis. To cut the budget for our cafeterias would have a serious impact on our schools. For many of our students, breakfast and lunch are the best meals they receive. If the students aren’t getting a good quality of food they are not going to be successful in school. Cutting jobs and causing longer food lines would only send a negative message to our communities.

I hope that the Board will seriously consider the negative impact that cutting the budget for our cafeterias would have on our schools . Such an action tells me that the district does not value the nutrition service programs. Please consider another solution to this problem.

ScootCoot said...

Okay, I know I'm "preaching to the choir" here, but just wanted to put my 2 centavos in...

"Every public school child in America deserves a healthful and delicious lunch that is prepared with fresh ingredients."

Preparing school lunches with "…fresh ingredients" requires obtaining those fresh ingredients (preferably from local farms) AND food service professionals to prep and cook those meals ON SITE

Assembly line prep and cooking for distribution to the schools makes about much sense as going to a restaurant and ordering a bulk meal - 'oh yes, I will have the steak tartar with a side of boxed wine'

GreyWatch said...

I sent a letter of concern to the school board and the district nutrition services administrator requesting more information. All I've received thus far is a comment from Maier saying that he trusts this will save money and still deliver good food. Even if this were true, I am concerned about expanding a program that relies on reheating food in plastic wrap and containers as is the case now with the elementary school program. The waste should not be tolerated, and neither should the cancer risk.

hungrykids said...

In school districts in other parts of the country where food service has been outsourced to for-profit corporations, there is more attention paid to market share or "share of stomach", as they call it. They achieve this by providing meals that meet many of the criteria (eye appeal, fresh foods, etc.) earlier bloggers have cited as reasons to keep doing what the District currently does. The current 42% share of stomach is abysmal and would almost certainly go up with a commercial company running the food service operation. In the Houston District, meals served went up by over 37% when Aramark came in. Having more students eating in their schools would keep students safer and strengthen their connection to the school, their peers and their teachers. Let's put this into the hands of a company that has demonstrated they know how to do this and make it work.

ScootCoot said...

"Outsourcing" always seems to be the answer to fix what ails an organization that is in trouble because of ineptitude and piss-poor management...

Outsourcing is NOT an answer - COMMUNICATION with those who keep the "engine" of the organization running, usually have darn good ideas how to "fix" what is wrong (only problem is, upper management and administration DO NOT want to listen to them)...

Before you get all enamored with a big corporation (e.g., Aramark) to come in and "rescue" the school nutrition program, you might want to do a little research...

Remember, corporations are in the business of making a PROFIT, not in the business of putting the student (and families) first...

Here's a link to read about what others think of a big corporation like Aramark (http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/aramark-c15487.html)...

The whole issue that the Seattle School Board is missing the point about, is this is about NUTRITIOUS meals for our (YOUR) children AND about the professional people who prepare those meals ON SITE for your (and their) children...

If the School Board decides to do away with on site meal preparations for the children of the Seattle School District the loss in jobs and a less safe environment for the children will only WEAKEN the connection of parents and children to their schools and community...

By thinking that an outside CORPORATION can "make it work" when it comes to preparing meals for the school district children, is a presumption that the current EMPLOYED professionals, who prepare all those meals DAILY, are incompetent and wouldn't have the first clue as to how to "make it work"...

You need to observe and talk to these professional people - you would find that money spent on "fixing" the current program would be better spent on those who KNOW how to run the program, rather than on an outside corporation, who's only vested interest in preparing meals for our children is PROFIT...

JF said...

JF said:

The proposal to provide secondary school students with lunches prepared in a central kitchen will have an adverse effect on student nutrition. I have had more than 30 years experience eating school lunches and those that came from a central kitchen pale in comparison to those prepared at the school. Menu selection is limited and the food was generally warm at best. Those who did eat these prepared lunches were students getting free or reduced lunches and quite often much of it ended up in waste receptacles. Lunches prepared at the local school tended to provide a broader range of choices and students can choose those items that are of interest and therefore little ends up in the waste containers.

Food prepared at a central facility runs the risk of spreading food born illnesses to a wide population. We are all familiar with recent food recalls and when contaminated food is dispensed district wide there is a chance that many students will be affected.

Taxpayers have invested heavily for modern school kitchens to ensure that nutritious meals prepared on site are available to students. These kitchens would be rendered useless if meals are prepared off-site and delivered in warming ovens. Many secondary students will opt to purchase food outside the school and the loss of income will seriously endanger profitability of the school lunch program for all students. In addition, leaving campus will result in many students needing additional time to procure food and will result in their returning late to classes.

I strongly believe that parents need to send a clear message to administration that closing secondary school kitchens in not in the best interest of students. If we are truly concerned about student nutrition, then we must insist that secondary schools continue to prepare food in-building and not accept food prepared at a central kitchen.

hungrykids said...

ScootCoot:

You seem to assume that the solution is EITHER a company that is experienced in making meals that students will want to eat OR employing the talented professionals who aren't figuring that out today. I believe most food service companies use union workers, so schools could have both. If Aramark, Sysco or another company comes in, they will need to hire a full complement of workers for the Seattle Schools' lunchrooms - why do you assume it will not include mostly people from the union you proudly represent? More meals served means more need for kitchen managers and other talented and productive food service workers, in addition to all the good things it brings for Seattle's kids.

Change is scary, but it's happening all around us. We can make the best of it or we can get run over as we try to hold it back.

ScootCoot said...

"hungrykids" wrote: "You seem to assume that the solution is EITHER a company that is experienced in making meals that students will want to eat OR employing the talented professionals who aren't figuring that out today."

"My solution", noted in my comment, is to NOT outsource preparing meals for the school district children, so how you interpreted my noting "Outsourcing is NOT an answer..." to mean I was suggesting an "either or" solution is beyond me... Your earlier comment, that I was responding to, would suggest YOU are someone who IS for outsourcing the feeding of the school district children...

The point I was trying to get across is that MANAGEMENT is the problem and the one who can't figure it out... Those who work in the kitchens of the schools, who will be affected by the "bulkinazation" of the meals served to the school district children, are the ones who CAN figure it out... The problem is that their input and ideas for are ignored by MANAGEMENT...

"If Aramark, Sysco or another company comes in, they will need to hire a full complement of workers for the Seattle Schools' lunchrooms - why do you assume it will not include mostly people from the union you proudly represent?"

Because, hungrykids, most private (for profit) food service companies, like Armark, are not unionized and they usually bring in their own people...

"Change is scary, but it's happening all around us. We can make the best of it or we can get run over as we try to hold it back."

Yes, change is scary, and yes, it is happening all the time, but when the change is done without listening to input from those who will be affected by that change, then that change isn't necessarily good...

All in all, hungrykids, I would guess you are someone who would be glad to see unions disappear and let those in charge make change without your input...

cheftom said...

The issue of school lunch is very complex, however not really all that complicated. It really comes down to a question of values. In essence we pay for those things which we value.

For the past four years our non profit organization, Experience Food Project,(www.experiencefoodproject.org) has engaged in extensive field study, pilot projects, interviews and site visits in order to acquire a base of knowledge and information as part of a systems change strategy. Some of that has taken place in the Seattle School system.

We have developed a number of successful programs that address some of the complexities involved, are cost effective and have shown dramatic increases in meal participation. We are currently working on a number of programs including in Seattle and Bellevue.

Consolidation does not necessarily have to mean compromises in quality and most likely what will be required in the future is some hybrid model that borrows from central / site specific strategies. In short it is time to re-think the whole process, particularly from an education standpoint.