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What happened to Lunch?

For those who don’t know, last year for lunch there were two hot meal options, but This year we have 6 entrée meals. Students have a wide variety from salad eaters, to PB&J eaters all the way to hot meals. You may wonder what changed over the summer for the school to go from 2 entree options to 6 entrée options. I have all the answers you are looking for. 

Missy Ortman is the new Director of Food & Nutrition. There are a lot more things that she handles than just school lunch “I oversee the entire nutrition department for the district.” What about lunches? “Part of what I am responsible for is creating compelling menus, bringing in new foods and recipes, and meeting nutritional requirements.” While this is a new position for her, she has been here for a couple of years. “I was with CCA for 3 years starting as a sub in 2018.” but took a break from CCA, “Then becoming North Bend’s kitchen manager for a year before moving to the High School.” Some of us still remember summer lunch programs, but who do you thank for that? “I also managed the summer meal programs in 2020 & 2021.” After the summer Ms. Ortman wanted to learn more so moved again. “In 2021, I moved to Iowa City Community School District to continue to learn and see how other kitchens and districts manage their nutrition departments.” After all that moving around she has come back to CCA with a good job helping students. “This is my first year back with CCA and I am excited to be able to create some positive changes here.”

Not everyone knows, but what does a Director of Food & Nutrition exactly do? “There are a lot of moving parts to the department and there are many rules to follow!  But, I do enjoy the daily challenges.” She has some positive opinions on the new job. “I have really appreciated the opportunity to bring some new ideas to CCA and give students a new perception of what school lunch can be.” But school lunches aren’t just made in the week before school. “I spent much of my summer creating menus and trying to find student-friendly meal options that meet state requirements.” it’s not just about what fits the meal plan. “ I also want to make sure that every student in the district has something they want to eat.” The high school isn’t the only school with improved lunches. “At the secondary schools, that was bringing in Domino’s Pizza and freshly made subs and salads.  At the elementary schools, that means bringing a second entree choice.” What about new or old food options? “ I am still working on several new recipes for students and cannot wait to share those in the coming months.”

Many students have already learned this, but some fruits and vegetables are already pre-portioned before they get in line for lunch. “First, is it easy to serve?  If it takes students a long time to serve themselves, then we will bag it up so that students get through the line faster.” What if someone wants more pickles than tomatoes? “Second, will students take the correct portion size?  Cucumbers or fruit are items where we have trouble with portion control.  In many cases, we may choose to pre-portion so that we know the right amount has been taken. It ensures that we have enough for everyone and that we comply with the USDA requirements.” Some choices are also made for those who work the lunch shift, not just students. “Last, what does staffing look like? If I have enough staff and the menu is easy enough, we may bag items to make things easier for students to grab and go.”

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When you get your food you often are looking for ketchup, ranch dressing, mayo, etc. but you have to walk over to the wall in the cafeteria for condiments. Ms. Ortman has gotten some comments on the condiments wall. “There were definitely some questions on the ranch location the first few weeks. I have also received some feedback as we have moved away from ranch cups and toward packets.” But why did they actually move them on the wall? “We have simply moved to a method that is best for the limited storage and staffing that we have.” Those who were at the high school last year know that the utensils were in little cups at the beginning of the lunch line. This year they have been moved and updated. “We have not heard a lot of feedback on the utensil dispenser.” Does only the High school have dispensers? “This is something that we are phasing in at all buildings.” Is it the cleanest option? “We can ensure that the plastic silverware is clean, orderly, and ready to go for each lunch.” Does it cost more with the utensil update? “It is more cost effective than our previous metal kind, especially when you consider the amount of time it takes to properly wash and sanitize and replace when it is accidentally misplaced.”

Students aren’t the only ones that have school lunch and some are willing to share their opinions. “One teacher told me that his kids were so excited about lunch that they were lining up at the door and racing to get there before the pizza ran out.” How do teachers feel about more options? “Admin and teachers have been happy with the changes, especially that there are options for everyone.” How many teachers actually eat school lunch? “Just like our student participation numbers, we are serving more teachers and staff than in previous years.  Many days we are serving 2-3 times as many!” 

 Not that many students are willing to share their thoughts but the ones that did say something seem to be happy. “I have heard mostly positive feedback about the changes.  Early on, we were running out of items, especially fruits and veggies, but we have been working hard to correct that.” Even though they say they like it, do they actually like lunch? “I would say the numbers speak for themselves.  On average, we are serving 550 meals with some days reaching as high as 570 (Crispito day).” What does that mean as in percentage? “That means roughly 70% of high school students eat with us each day.” How does this compare to last year? “To put that into perspective, every day we are serving 120 more students than we were last year. So I think these changes appear to be well-received by students.” It may seem like dramatic changes were made, but when you look at it as a whole there are minor changes to get more kids to eat school lunch, and to eat things they like.

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Holly Adams, Page Editor

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