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Grissom column: Not your grandparents’ cafeteria

Over the last few months, much information has been shared about 21st Century teachers and classroom skills needed for today’s students. When directors and principals were presenting their budget requests recently, Libby Post, child nutrition director, began her discussion by comparing the old school lunchroom with the 21st Century cafeteria. She has given me permission to share her comparison, particularly since many of us do not think about the changes that have taken place in school food services. Here are some of the comparisons:
– The old school lunch program served only lunch. Our cafeterias now provide breakfast, lunch, after-school snacks, summer feeding, kindergarten breakfast, fresh fruit and vegetable program, and even do catering
– The old school lunch program focused on malnutrition, while food service today focuses on obesity
– The old school lunch program offered one selection at lunch. Now students have multiple choices offered
– The old school lunch program was cashiered out of a cigar box; now we use sophisticated point-of-sale computers
– The old school lunch program used student and adult volunteers. Now the food service program contends with wage and hour laws, OSHA, workers compensation, drug testing and background checks
– The old school lunch program could depend on local farmers donating foods. Now there is focus on food safety, formal bid process, food recalls and global food supply
– The old school lunch program often served thick, sticky peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now we have peanut-safe schools
– The old school lunch program looked for employees who would add their special touch to recipes. Now we look for employees who will follow recipes
– Milk was 5 cents and lunch was 20 cents. Now students pay 50 cents for milk and $1.75 for lunch (still an excellent deal).
– The old school lunch program allowed each site to plan its menu. Now there is nutrient standard menu planning, weight watchers points, Spanish translations, menu costing and even a Web site
– Schools systems subsidized child nutrition programs before. Now child nutrition programs strive to be financially self-sufficient
One thing that has not changed is the dedicated staff committed to serving nutritious meals that help students to be more successful. Rowan-Salisbury School System is fortunate to have an excellent, hard-working child nutrition staff ó about 152 full-time employees and 79 part-time employees, for a total of 231 school-based employees. More than 80 are ServSafe certified. This involves a 12-hour course focusing on food safety and requires passing a national test.
School Food Service employees serve an average of 6,375 breakfasts a day, and daily lunch participation averages 15,333 meals. That is 1,147,500 breakfasts per year and 2,759,940 lunches a year ó a lot of food!; pizza and chicken nuggets always rank at the top of most popular and most purchased foods.
Our child nutrition program provides free and reduced-cost meals to students who are from low-income families. As of January, 50.2 per cent of our students were on free and reduced meals.
North Rowan Elementary School is one of five schools in the state that was selected to receive the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for five years. We are in the fourth year of the program, which provides funds for healthy snacks to all students and staff. The dollar value of the grant for North Rowan Elementary will be approximately $250,000. Hanford-Dole Elementary has had the program for two years, and Overton has had the program for one year. The grants were approximately $45,000 a year at each school.
The cafeteria workers and systemwide employees continually model and teach our students and staff about nutrition and healthy eating. The staff has trained teachers at several elementary schools on ways to incorporate nutrition and physical activity into the N.C. Standard Course of Study.
Some of the child nutrition employees, along with some teachers and a few administrators, created a healthy assembly called “The Rainbow Groove.” The group started out performing at four schools and then committed to a performance at all of the elementary schools. They offered a beauty pageant of fruits and vegetables, performed the “Salad Groove.” rocked to the “Veggie Meringue” and jumped up and down to the “Fruit Freeze.” I was even coaxed into performing as a carrot in one of the assemblies.
The Child Nutrition Staff is committed to providing safe food for the students and staff in the Rowan-Salisbury School System. We are fortunate to have such knowledgeable and caring employees. I thank them for all that they do for us.
nnn
Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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