On Monday, the main entrees offered at Madison’s middle and high schools were the “Big Cheesey Pizza,” “seasoned Buffalo Chicken” and the “Deluxe Turkey Pepperoni Pizza.”
On Tuesday, the choices were: “Big Cheesey Pizza,” “seasoned Buffalo Chicken” or “Deluxe Turkey Pepperoni Pizza.” Ditto for the menus for this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
If the choices looked familiar, that’s because they’re the same three main entrees students were offered all of last week. Elementary students have been treated to either pizza or a turkey and cheese “snack lunch kit.”
While vegetarian options and fruit and vegetable sides are also available, parents, students and staff are objecting to the lack of more nutritious school meal options, which administrators blame on ongoing staffing shortages.
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“Parents have not received any communication that there is an issue, which means we can’t be prepared to send a packed lunch from home,” said Amy Irving, a parent of two Crestwood Elementary School students. “Of course, so many kids don’t have this option either and count on school meals to be nutritious and filling. I am absolutely appalled.”
One day last week, Irving said, the “fresh fruit or veggie” side option for her students was Craisins.
Darren Martin, whose Toki Middle School student has been served pizza every day since school started Sept. 5, complained that the school’s café app has had incorrect or no information about menu options for about a week.
At a work group meeting Monday night, members of the Madison School Board asked administrators how they planned to address the problem, noting the district’s food service policy states, “when possible, school meals will include fresh, locally grown foods.”
“There have been a number of emails that have come in as of recently related to the type of food that’s being offered,” board member Nichelle Nichols said.
District officials blamed the scant menu options on an ongoing staffing crisis in the district and nationwide.
“While we, too, want a very robust menu, we also recognize that we have some staffing shortages that has severely impacted us,” Cedric Hodo, the district’s chief of operations and executive director of building and auxiliary services, told board members. “We’re working with our food service operators to ensure that we’re addressing this matter as quickly as possible.”
Hodo said the district is currently meeting the minimum nutritional requirements set by the United States Department of Agriculture for school lunches and hopes to bring in more “robust menu items as quickly as possible.” He said the board and students should see some changes within the next two weeks.
The federal standard requires most schools to “increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements.”
On Monday evening, the Madison School District posted on its Facebook page that it needs help preparing and serving meals to students and asked the community to apply for open kitchen positions.
In comments under that post, parents complained that their students have come home crying out of hunger, that they’re being served “Lunchable” style meals, and that the district has not communicated the extent of the problem to parents to help parents plan lunches accordingly.
The district’s menu webpage blamed the lack of nutrient-dense meal options on supply chain issues.
“Our team is committed to adapting our menu and operations to ensure our meals are delicious and maintain high standards of quality and nutrition. We apologize for any inconvenience that these product shortages might cause and sincerely appreciate your patience,” it said.