Columbus schools' meal program lost $1.75 million last year

Unpaid meal debt accounts for $300,000.

July 29—Columbus City Schools’ foodservice program lost $1.75 million this past school year, including about $300,000 in uncollected debt from students who were required to pay for meals but didn’t.

The deficit has the district considering a new federal program that would require it to serve free lunches and breakfasts to every student, regardless of income, to possibly lose less money, Food Service Director Joe Brown told the district Audit Committee yesterday evening.

Despite losing money again — a problem for the food-service program year after year — the program made progress. Brown had projected that his department would lose $2.12 million during the 2012-13 school year, so the actual result was about $370,000 better than expected.

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On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

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We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
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We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
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Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

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