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School lunches - any improvements?

Original post made by Parent on Sep 10, 2007

My child had his first pizza day lunch at school today at the new higher rate. He had to pre-order on Friday (today is Monday) and line up with his class rather than altogether as before. We opted to pay cash rather than the complicated alternative. He didn't like the new system. The biggest complaint though was that the milk had been frozen and there were ice chips in it. Apparently, "everyone" complained to the lunch staff and the principal.

My son refuses to get lunch on any day other than pizza day and breakfast for lunch. As yet, we haven't had a menu!

With the new pre-ordering system and the higher charge, I wonder if there are in fact any improvements? This is at the elementary level. At middle school, my son refuses to get lunch because the lines are too long and he doesn't want to waste the whole of his lunch time standing in line.

Any comments anyone?

Comments (17)

Posted by AnotherPVParent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2007 at 8:47 pm

The lunch menu link is provided on Palo Verde's website


Posted by Mom, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2007 at 7:55 am

Well, I was at the Board meeting where the lunch program was discussed at length. It seems that the lunch program did exactly the opposite of what the Board voted it to do.

They were supposed to have more lines, more "points of service" to let the High School kids get their lunch..instead at Gunn they decreased the Pizza line to ONE and the line finally ends 10 minutes before lunch is over.

They were supposed to have JUST a simple head count of how many kids wanted lunch at the elementary school, to give the kitchen an idea of lunches needed at each elementary school. There was a big discussion about not wanting to spend a lot of classroom time writing up lunch orders, and Mr. Matranga made the point that it would just be a raising of hands...instead at my kid's elementary school they WRITE THE LUNCH PREFERENCE BY EACH KID'S NAME AND HAND IT IN!! Huh??

Then, on top of it all, they were supposed to simply use the electronic cards to "beep" in the lunch into the online account that we parents put money into, to make the lines go faster. INSTEAD, they now carefully check the kid's name off on the class list!!, which takes even more time than the old money system. So, my kid takes his lunch now ( makes me happier anyway), but we are still stuck with a more inefficient system which wastes classroom time.

I must have missed the meeting where all the concerns about lines and teacher time being wasted were reversed.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Sep 11, 2007 at 8:53 am

Thanks another for the link.

I checked with the school office. It seems that there is now a lot of extra work involved for everyone with lunches. South of Midtown Mom is correct, the lunch orders are written down and handed in and also everyone's debit card is checked to see if they have enough money to pay for lunch. If they don't the office has to call home.
Apparently, at the end of the last school year, the debit cards had all been overused by the kids without telling the parents and the office had to call parents to get the kids' lunch debts sorted. I am not too surprised on this one.

How this system is going to continue through the school year is anyone's guess. It seems that school lunches will continue to be unpopular for the general populations that apart from pizza day, the only ones getting school lunches will be those on the reduced lunch program.


Posted by AnotherPVParent, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2007 at 1:27 pm

We were one of those who went over their debit card last year .. the district sent us an invoice at the end of the year for the additional amount.

I thought any left over amount cannot be refunded at the end of the year - is this right ? Going with this assumption, I was adding the amount cautiously.

Ideal way would be not to charge the parents more to "Refill" this card online and send an email reminder when the amount reaches a certain threshold.

With all this extra work involved to order a simple lunch, I wonder if the district is trying to dig the grave for the lunch program. The district is not too happy with the program anyways, they are loosing the money on it (due to mismanagement and not so great food, if you ask me ) - if they can 'successfully' prove that not many students signed up for the lunches - it will be an unanimous vote to cut out the program.

We do not buy lunches every day; but its a good option to have.


Posted by PA mom, a resident of Addison School
on Sep 11, 2007 at 1:47 pm

The biggest issue with the lunch program is the food (kind-of a duh!) If the school board members took turns eating lunch at the elementary schools, maybe we'd have a better program. My daughter will only eat the mini-burgers - and she's not a picky eater!


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2007 at 8:34 pm

Claud Ezran, candidate for school board, has been quoted about school lunches and it will be interesting to see what his impression of the redefined program is.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Escondido School
on Sep 12, 2007 at 4:55 pm

1)If your kids don't like the hot lunch them pack them a lunch from home.

2)My kids said the first few days were a bit disorganized but now it is working smoothly. And they like the food.

3)As for the online system - parents can check the balance regularly (so no need to ask your kids what the balance is) to see if they need to add more $. Much easier than figuring out how many lunch tickets are left.

4) pre order makes since as number of kids eating each day can vary - it is very costly and wasteful to have lots of left over food.

5)Again this is a service which at best should be cost neutral (not a huge loss like last school year) and maybe with enough complaints there will be no hot lunch service at all. Then we can complain about other stuff.





Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Sep 12, 2007 at 5:58 pm

1 My son does take lunch from home, but occasionally likes to have pizza at school with his friends. It is useful to have school lunch as an option for days when it is difficult to bring a lunch.

2. The reason for the disorganisation is because the teachers have a lot more work to do, listing out who wants what and then double checking the amount of money and then checking off the list at the lunch line.

3.It is easier to give cash, but I will agree that for some this method may work well. The problem is when the kids start buying food without telling the parents and throwing the lunch from home away. It does happen.

4. Pre-ordering the food is a good idea, I agree. I hate waste. If the pre-ordering was just raising hands to get a good idea of how many, it would be much easier. Making a list and checking it twice seems like overkill.

5. I agree that this service should be cost neutral. With the number of complaints I hear, it will soon be just for reduced price lunch kids. However, if this is a service, it should be that, a service. I do not expect to see this run at a profit, but there is no excuse for the deficits that have been running.

Question. Who supplements the cost of reduced cost lunches? Is this funded out of the program or is there money from elsewhere that replaces the cost of the reduction. If the program has to cover the cost of the reduction itself, then I really can't see how it will ever be cost neutral as the more problems there are, the less full price lunches will be sold and the bigger the deficit will end up.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2007 at 9:36 am

Free and Reduced Lunches are not funded directly our of our local taxes,..but I can't remember how much is State funded and how much is Fed.

At the Board Meeting about this lunch thing, it was clear that the last resort is just that..we may end up only with Free and Reduced Lunch "boxes", with a few extra for kids who just want to buy them.

It seems we should make sure the head of food services knows what is happening at the schools.


Posted by Claude Ezran, School Board Candidate, a resident of Triple El
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:47 am

Response from Claude Ezran, School Board candidate regarding school lunches. For more details on my views regarding a variety of issues, feel free to visit my web site: www.ezran2007.com

The question of school lunches is one that I have given much thought about since I used to be on the Healthy School Lunch Committee and co-authored a Health and Wellness Policy that was passed by the School Board. We also convinced the Board to help improve lunch quality by changing the food service vendor from Sodexho to Chartwells.

The school lunch program is losing about $600K a year. The School Board is rightly concerned by the magnitude of this loss and has instructed Staff to rapidly achieve breakeven. I do concur with this recommendation as well as with the small price increase that was decided. However, several Board Members also added that if good progress was not achieved, the lunch program could be terminated except for the federally mandated free and reduced price lunches for economically disadvantaged students.

I believe that having a good lunch program is an integral part of the school experience that the District must provide. It should be part of its mission. Many parents also rely on it because they have little time to prepare lunch boxes. Furthermore, most organizations, companies or public entities, usually tolerate a small loss in their lunch programs, and in fact subsidize them. Reducing the loss is absolutely necessary, and breakeven should be the objective, but not an absolute imperative.

There is much that can be done to improve the situation. The students' participation rate in the lunch program, at around 13%, is very low compared to other school districts (in part because we have much fewer free and reduced price lunches). Furthermore, If one excludes the 9% of our students who receive free and reduced price lunches, only 4% of our students are independent participants. This is extremely low; one should be able to do a lot better. For comparison purposes, in Santa Clara County as a whole, the participation rates are: 38% in total, and 17% for fully paid lunches.

I would encourage Staff and Chartwells, our contractor, to do a better job marketing the lunch program. It should be mentioned at Back-to-School nights and in various PTA e-mail newsletters. It should be promoted and advertised throughout the year. In order to reduce waste and operate more efficiently, I would encourage Chartwells to set-up a web site where parents could order on-line and pay for specific meals for an extended time period, for instance the next three months. We could even give them a discount if they make long-term commitments. This will help determine the demand and adjust the supply accordingly. Right now, a poll is taken each day in each elementary classroom; this is highly inefficient. An added benefit of on-line ordering is that parents will have a much better control of what their children are eating.

Another thing to work on is the long lines at lunch time that discourage many students. We would do much better if we could just allow customers to buy!

Food for thought…or maybe, thoughts for food!


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2007 at 8:50 am

Claude

Thanks for your comments.

I would like to ask if you have had any recent experience of being at any of the schools at lunch time. As a parent who has often been at my elementary school at lunch, I am shocked at what happens. I see really good looking sandwiches being thrown into the trash as someone else brings in enough ding dongs or whatever for the whole table. I see kids complaining that they bought hot lunch, but are still starving, as the hot lunch is too small.

I am not saying that all these things are something that the BoE can prevent, but it is good if they have experienced it happening.


Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Addison School
on Sep 27, 2007 at 10:25 am

Claude - the biggest problem with the lunch program in the elementary school is not marketing, it is the food. It simply does not taste good. Improve the food and you will sell more.


Posted by Working Mom, a resident of Southgate
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm

All,

Full disclosure: I'm a working mom and I have not experienced a lunch hour at any of the schools. My kids take their lunch every day and I hear from many of my friends that the food is abhorrent.

I come to work every day at a corporation (not Google) where we have a cafeteria run by Guckenheimer. We have a facility with 3000 people all of whom would not eat lunch at the cafeteria since there are restaurants within walking distance.

However, this is not a subsidized cafeteria. The service must stand on its own and is run by a for profit organization. We have many healthy options each day. There is a full salad bar, a sandwich bar, a custom salad bar (hand tossed), soup, hot entrees and a grill. There is also a cooler with a full choice of Odwalla's, juice, nutritional drinks (which is where I assume they make a lot of their money). We also have bars, yogurt, nuts, etc.

So, why can this happen at a company facility and not at a school. It seems that we have too much government regulation and not enough entrepreneurial spirit.

I just can't understand.

Here is a sample menu:
SOUPS
New England Clam Chowder $1.75
THE BROILER
Grilled Reuben Sandwich with Onion Rings $4.75
ENTRÉE FEATURE
Nice Thai! Green Curry Shrimp with Noodles
CHEF SPECIAL
Grilled Polenta with Chicken and
Mushrooms with Green salad $5.95
ROAD TO ROMAINE
Seafood Loiue Tossed to Order $5.95
HEALTHY CHOICE
Pasta with Marinara Sauce Served with a Green Salad
Cal 334 Fat 5g Chol 73mg $4.50
PIZZA OVEN
Chicken Fajita $3.25
Chilis
Bison Chili $2.00


Posted by jordan parent, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:57 pm

And what about those middle school lines? My daughter happily bought hot lunch at her elementary school last year, and would happily buy lunch at jordan if she could, but the lines are just too long. I thought they were supposed to be adding more points of service to reduce the lines but they are still ridiculous.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Working Mom - can I get a job at your place?


Jordan parent, my daughter, who is now in college, hated the length of the lunch lines while she was there and did something about it. She volunteered her lunch to help there. She loved serving and it was fun, so much so that she did it for a couple of years. She met loads of people at different grade levels, got to know the lunch staff too, and found it much more fun than going to the clubs. I know it isn't for everyone, but she loved it.

This of course is not the answer, but surely getting the students themselves tohelp, possibly giving them a free lunch each week or something, would help the lunch lines situation.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 11, 2007 at 10:11 am

How about getting the Taco Truck from Los Altos High School to park near Gunn at lunch times. Seriously, this would be a good idea. It would give the kids an alternative, perhaps prevent the kids driving off campus, and give the Gunn students more options for lunch. There is already some envy with Paly because of Town & Country, and this may alleviate it. It may also show our school district personnel that what they offer at present is not what they want.

Of course it doesn't have to be tacos, but some enterprising truck could easily do themselves some good business.


Posted by memory lane, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2007 at 11:23 am

Wow, you just brought up a powerful memory..I worked the lunch line for a "free lunch" as pay when I was in High School a couple times per week. It WAS fun, it helped me learn to work, and it was part of what taught me that I had better go to college or I would be stuck working jobs like that the rest of my life!


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