Preparing Meals for Thousands of IPS Students is a Year-round Operation
May 19, 2017
One site will even serve the meals on wheels.
An IPS food bus will make its debut this summer as one of three satellite locations from June 12 through July 21. The district school bus is receiving a complete overhaul and being retrofitted into a mobile kitchen, with refrigerators, ovens, warmers and a grill. The wrapped bus will also include awnings and drop-down tables for students to enjoy their meals, as well as TVs and a music system.
The bus allows IPS to join a growing food craze, but most importantly helps the district feed more students throughout the year.
“This is a new venture for us; we’ve never worked on a food bus,” said Dena Bond, director of Food Service. “It’s hard to reach some families by only providing meals in schools. This is our effort to reach district and community students who otherwise can’t get to the school or the two library branches where summer meals will be served.”
This summer, the bus will provide lunch at Jonathan Jennings School 109, 6150 Gateway Dr., from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. and at The Stratford, an apartment complex at 3201 Watergate Road, from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. and 1 to 1:30 p.m. Manned by Food Service employees, the meals will be the same ones served in schools and other satellite sites.
Finding innovative ways to provide healthy, nutritious meals to the district’s 30,000-plus elementary, middle and high school students is just part of what happens inside the Food Service Department building on Producers Drive in an industrial park on the city’s east side.
Inside, employees work in different shifts and departments to meet the needs of our students throughout the week — from dock and assembly line workers to front office staff.
There’s the warehouse filled with boxes of whole grain cereals; cartons of regular white and chocolate milk, as well as soy; and rows of canned and boxed goods — many with the words “lite” and “organic” on the packaging. Down the hallway is another room with daily servings of fruits and veggies that are delivered to schools, and another that houses bulk-sized quantities of shredded cheese, radishes, carrots and lettuce. There’s even a room specifically for meals for students with special dietary needs.
Another area houses the assembly line where employees — dressed in white “lab” coats, hair nets and gloves — work together to fill trays for entrées and snacks. On a recent visit, workers were packaging celery and carrot sticks, stringed cheese, red grapes and a container of red pepper humus.
In addition to the new food bus and daily breakfast, lunch and snacks during the school year, the Food Service team oversees the district’s:
- Fruit and Vegetable Program, featuring vegetable bars in all IPS high schools and most middle and elementary schools for a total of 56 schools.
- Daily Lunch Service at all IPS schools — either through prepared foods or delivery.
- School Break Meal Program in which the district serves lunch and some breakfast to IPS students during summer, winter, fall and spring breaks, and even on inclement weather days.
- Supper Program through the RightFit program. IPS students at Meredith Nicholson School 96, Daniel Webster School 46 and Wendell Philips School 63 receive dinner three times a week.
The gains made in getting students to eat healthier is one of the reasons the Food Service Department isn’t concerned about the impending changes being made by the new U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, who is rolling back the nutritional standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
“We’ve already introduced our kids to these healthier choices and part of our mission is to teach good eating habits,” said Steve Gudorf, operations manager, IPS Food Service Department. “We know that for a lot of our kids we’re the only good nutritious meal that they get, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t eat well because they’re impoverished, because we also know that affluent kids don’t eat well either. It’s about how you’re trained to eat. Our training is to give kids an opportunity to have lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.”
“We have already reduced the amount of sodium in our meals, made the switch to fat-free flavored milk, and serve only grains that are whole-grain rich,” said Bond. “Our students have accepted and adjusted to these changes over the last several years. There is no reason to go backward and reduce the nutritional integrity of the meals we serve.”
Sometimes, to get kids to eat foods that are better for them means disguising them into foods they recognize and already love — like chicken nuggets, pizza and chocolate milk. These meals are part of the more than 7 million served throughout IPS during the 2015-2016 school year. (The 2016-2017 totals will be released June 30). Meals at IPS are served 51 weeks each year and are free to all students. Yes, free.
A large population of IPS students live at or below the poverty level, many also live in food deserts, so the meals served are vitally important. To provide breakfast, lunch, snacks and even dinners free of charge for all students, the district operates strictly on reimbursement from the USDA, said Bond.
It’s a program that’s paramount for many of the district’s students.
“We know that nutrition is vital to learning to set students up for success during the school day. And they know that they can count on these meals,” said Bond, a registered dietician. “They know that they can count on a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch; fruit and vegetable snack; and maybe a supper. Certainly, a child shouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. What we do takes the burden off the parent to know that if they don’t have enough resources to provide those healthy meals, that the school does.”