School cafeteria offerings have received quite a bit of attention in recent months due to changes in federal law that require smaller portions of more nutritious food.
In Ridgewood, officials are in the process of exploring whether to opt out of the federal program – losing $70,000 in federal money in the process – or modify their existing options while keeping the revenue.
The decision won't come easy, either.
The cafeteria program last year lost a total of $108,654 last year, though roughly half of that figure came in the way of one-time equipment purchases and repairs, Assistant Superintendent for Business Angelo DeSimone said.
"I believe revenue suffered with last year's problems on pre-ordering lunches at the beginning of the year," he said.
Ultimately, if the district wants to close its budgetary gap, it will likely either have to increase price or increase student participation.
"If we could figure out a way to generate 50 cents more per lunch served," DeSimone said, "that deficit would go away."
The district's food provider, Pomptonian, is looking at nearby districts for guidance. One obstacle is the speed convenience of the offerings, DeSimone said.
Citing conversations he's had with students at B.F. Middle School, DeSimone said while the deli selections are popular with students (particularly the $3.25 price), waiting on line sometimes isn't preferred over bringing their own lunches.
The selection could also improve – sushi, anyone? – and the system of informing them what meals are being offered on particular days should be better communicated, he said.
It remains a possibility Ridgewood could join Wyckoff in abandoning the federal lunch standards altogether, though it would need a solid plan to attract students. And more and more local businesses are delivering lunches to the schools, providing for stiff competition.
School lunch costs are not supposed to be offset by district funds, meaning kids will have to be lining up for district lunches to make it a viable option.
Because it has a contract with Pomptonian, the district cannot just complete forge out on its own, either.
DeSimone said he'll be conferring with members of the Ridge School community, which has seen a 20-40 percent increase in participation at its new experimental lunch program.
"If we could put together a program that's attractive like that, moving away from the federal program shouldn't be an issue," he said.
The district may start slow by just experimenting with the middle schools and, if successful, then moving to the elementary schools, DeSimone said.
What would you like to see the schools do with the lunch program? Something modeled after Ridge School? A completely revamped system? What foods would get your kids to eat the school lunches?
Sound off below with your thoughts.
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