Food Fight: Ridgewood Considering Changes to School Lunch Program

What changes would you like to see at the Ridgewod school cafeterias?

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.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter. 

SusieHomeMaker October 22, 2012 at 02:15 PM
how about parents pack a lunch?? simple
SusieHomeMaker October 22, 2012 at 02:19 PM
or if you must supply lunch - Trader Joe's sells great frozen one portion 'lunch' type foods. The caf's could have set up a bunch of microwave ovens and a freezer- For $2-$3.50 the kids could have a HUGE choice ... and no caf staff needed, no fresh food waste , and simple
Irene October 22, 2012 at 04:18 PM
My daughter has celiac disease and that is why she must always pack her own lunch. I'd LOVE to see more gluten-free menu choices at Ridgewood High School and I'm sure I'm not alone!
James Kleimann October 22, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Good info, thanks WoodMom.
Lauren Imbruglia October 24, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I would bet my last dollar that the shortened lunch period (25 minutes at the middle school) greatly reduced the number of students who buy lunches. We killed our own lunch program! I know as soon as my kids got to the HS, as well, they stopped buying lunches altogether. They said the lines were too long and too slow. By the time you finally got your lunch, you wouldn't have long to eat.


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