Frigid weather alters school menus

Green Bay school officials learned elementary school kids love kiwi after subzero weather in Wisconsin in January forced school closures.

The fuzzy fruit was purchased for a special program by the school district's food services department. However, the fruit had to be used quickly when schools were closed for extreme cold over a three-day span, January 6th – 8th. Leaving the kiwi to be served to the district's small students. On January 28th, schools were also closed as a result of freezing temperatures.

"We had a lot of students say, ‘we really like kiwi, can we have this every day?'" said Kathy Walker, food services director for the Green Bay district. "So you never know."

As temperatures dipped dangerously low, a majority of families might have planned meal menus and grocery shopping more carefully. However, for those serving 10,000 meals a day, it gets pretty complicated.

"We do a lot of planning ahead of time," Walker said. "We think about how it impacts menus. We even come up with alternative menus."

The Green Bay district delivers packs of food from a central location to be heated up because its 26 elementary schools generally have small kitchens. Additionally, fresh fruit, produce, and other items are delivered. Thus, on the previous Friday, food service workers were preparing meals for Monday, January 6th. On January 9th, kids ate the kept meal when they returned to school.

"We kept a close eye on things," Walker said. "If schools would have been closed for a week or a few more days, we would have had a lot more waste."

Based on guidelines under the Federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, districts also provide more fresh fruits and vegetables, making the juggling act a little trickier than years past. Walker said that using fresh produce means food service managers rearranged menus to use fruits and veggies that don't hold up as well as others.

"If it is bananas, they don't last as long as oranges," she said. "Sliced cucumbers are not going to last as long as baby carrots. We're trying really hard not to waste food, so we had to rearrange things."

As Patti Zarling of Green Bay Press-Gazette reports, adjustments were also made by other Green Bay area districts.

"Our primary goal is to avoid waste," said Betsy Farah, child nutrition coordinator for the Ashwaubenon School District. "At the same time, we don't want to do anything that would impact food safety."

Nonetheless, many families rely on meal selections posted online because of food allergies. School administrators and nurses also are made aware of menu changes for students with medical issues or allergies as Walker put it.

"It is a long process," Walker said. "We were talking about what happens if schools close on Jan. 6 on the Friday before, and we even planned for if schools were closed another day and made two menus. But then they were closed three days."

However, for Ashwaubenon, that meant throwing away meat that was going to be used for tacos. The closing also meant working with distributors to move or cancel orders. Ironically, Walker said the district buys food "just in time", as it doesn't have the space, including space in coolers and freezers, to store a lot of product. In addition, Ashwaubenon also had to make sure building maintenance employees were on hand to open doors for those dropping off items.

"I think it went really well," Walker said about the modifications. "There was real dedication of staff and food workers, and a concentrated effort to not waste food."

02 3, 2014
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