District High School Students Enjoy New Cafeteria Experience and Options
NEW CHOICES, OPTIONS — Yoselin H., (center), a sophomore at Shortridge High School, enjoys the new food choices while eating lunch with friends on Wednesday, August 8. The IPS Food Service Department remodeled the cafeterias in the district's all-choice high schools, improved the quality of food and increased the number of meal choices for brekfast and lunch.
When IPS high school students walked into their cafeterias on the first day of school, they were met with a variety of new menu items and unique food stations.
The IPS Food Service team spent the summer revamping the breakfast and lunch experience at Shortridge, Arsenal Technical, Crispus Attucks and George Washington high schools, which focuses on new, more plentiful options, better food and an improved cafeteria experience.
Shortridge sophomore Yoselin H. is pleased with the offerings.
Yoselin skipped lunch the first day. The second day she ate a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. On Day 3, she had chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, cornbread and watermelon slices.
“The food is much better and there are definitely a lot more options than last year,” said Yoselin, who was eating lunch with three friends on Wednesday, August 8. “I also like that they have hot sauce now instead of barbecue sauce only.”
After spending last year revamping the food offerings for IPS elementary schools, Food Service Director Dena Bond and Operations Manager Amanda Kruse decided to tackle the high schools for the 2018-19 school year.
“We hadn’t really changed much in several years (at the high schools) and wanted opportunities for new menu ideas, increased offerings for kids, and a different quality of food,” said Bond.
The trick was adding new options and meals while maintaining the USDA’s requirements for calories, sodium intake and nutritional minimums. As it turned out, they had a little wiggle room. Students are allowed an entree, up to three fruits (or two fruits and a serving of juice), two vegetables, a salad and a milk.
Ultimately, they looked beyond other districts and instead focused on what the food service industry in general is doing.
What they realized is that restaurants like Subway, Qdoba, Chipotle and Blaze Pizza all add an element of customization to their food. They all found success allowing their customers the ability to choose from a variety of meats, cheeses, sauces and other toppings to make their meal exactly how they want it.
“We looked at serving areas and we were able to be more creative,” Bond said. “We looked at what was going on in other districts, and looked at how we could mirror what they were doing, but also how we could put our own spin on it.”
IPS Food Service at the high schools is broken into four different stations, each with its own branding:
- Flame: Burgers and other hot sandwiches
- Zing: Customizable dishes, rotating between Asian, Mexican, and chicken tenders (with a variety of sauces)
- Slice: Pizzas, subs, wraps and calzones
- Express: Grab-and-go prepared sandwiches and salads
Anchoring it all is the Creation Station, a custom-made, refrigerated salad and toppings bar, which will allow students to further customize their dishes with sauces, dressings and a variety of toppings. “Think about the salad bars in grocery stores,” said Bond.
With so many mix-and-match options, students have upwards of eight to 10 different entree options daily — an increase from five last year — and the Creation Station allows for further customization.
“The cool thing about the Creation Station, is not only can they top their food, this is in addition to their existing choices,” Kruse said. “If it’s mashed potato day and they don’t want to forgo their mashed potatoes just to be able to get extra toppers for their salad, now they don’t have to.”
Recipes are batch-cooked and standardized across schools, and cafeteria staff have received training for preparing the new menu items.
The cafeteria layouts and signage are different as well, with new signage at each station, and a more consistent overall color scheme and décor — including new laminate countertops —adding to the fresh look. Digital menu screens greet students before they enter, helping them decide which station they want to visit that day.
Bond said the new approach to school lunch — which is free for all IPS students — can have lasting ramifications on how students eat both in school and out. For students who are nervous about branching out, this combination of the new and the familiar creates an opportunity to go beyond their comfort zones.
“I think this is where we start with change,” said Bond. “We have some similar items, and these options allow them to put their own spin on it. I have no doubt we will have the opportunity to do even more innovative and interesting things, but this is a good start.”
The remodeling of the cafeterias cost just north of $280,000 and was paid through funds raised by the district’s participation in a variety of USDA child nutrition programs. Schools receive reimbursements for every school breakfast and lunch they serve, and those reimbursements funded nearly the entire project.