1. Try order-ahead
Students at the district’s high school have the option to order sandwiches for lunch the night before to skip the line. Students place their orders through the school nutrition’s website and pick them up in the cafeteria when it is time to eat. Food Service Director Mellissa Honeywood says that the system is popular with students and improves line flow.
2. Introduce ethnic meals from home
The Cambridge nutrition team also makes a point to incorporate meals from students’ families into the menu rotation.
“We have a lot of families that are here for fellowships or are recent refugees. Our [community engagement team] meets with those families, just to talk about their experiences as parents within the school district, and while they’re having those meetings, they ask if there are any food items that they would like to see offered at the school meals program,”says Honeywood.
The nutrition team will take the recipes submitted by parents and tweak them if needed to fit school nutrition standards. The dishes are then tested at each school and added to the permanent menu if they are received well by students. Not only has the program expanded students’ palates, but it has also increased the district’s scratch-made offerings.
“All the recipes that we get through the international flavor series, none of those are prepackaged,” says Honeywood. “You’re not going to find prepackaged chicken biryani anywhere. Just by virtue of modifying our menu to be more inclusive and represent the diversity of our community, we have also increased [the] amounts of prepared meals that we utilize during the menu.”
3. From sea to plate
Cambridge has now expanded its procurement of local ingredients to include fish as well. This school year, the district began working with two local fishermen to provide fresh-caught fish each week. With the district’s close proximity to the coast, a staff member is able to drive right to the processing plant and pick up fish that were caught that morning, which helps alleviates costs. The fish is used in dishes such as fish tacos and fish and chips.
4. Educate students about food
Cambridge Public Schools partnered with the Cambridge Health Department to start the Tasty Choices program, which aims to educate the local community about healthy eating. Through the program, parents receive information on nutrition events, healthy snack ideas for kids and other tips on how to help their families lead healthier lifestyles. Honeywood has also linked Tasty Choices with the nutrition team’s Harvest of the Month program, enabling community members to receive information on what local produce will be featured in the cafeteria each month.
5. Face food insecurity head on
Around 40% of students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price meals, but Honeywood says that many who don’t qualify are still struggling because of the high cost of living in the area. The nutrition team has taken steps to help families, such as implementing a weekend backpack program, but Honeywood would like to expand their outreach.
“One thing that we're planning to do is purchase a food vacuum sealer,” she says. “That way, we can make better use of the leftover meals that we prepare and either to do a better job of packaging those so that they can be offered later on in the menu cycle or create individual meals so that way we can send that to our backpack program.”
The district has also started a food bank program called School Market Days, where families can come to a market set up at school and receive food free of charge.
“Families who may be experiencing food insecurity don't have to go to a separate place, they can just come as they pick up their child from school, stop by the market and can get anything that they might need,” Honeywood says. “There’s no cash transactions, no sign-up list, you just come in and get what you want.”