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Gaining steam: Supper at school

Three years ago, Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., started a pilot supper program at its high school. The goal: To make sure the district’s students, 57% of whom are on free or reduced-priced meals, would not be hungry when school is done for the day.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to 12 schools and now provides afterschool meals to children participating in YMCA activities. And it's just one of many such programs popping up in districts throughout the country, as operators add supper to the list of daily meals they provide for students.

Building your base

Paula Angelucci, Colonial School District's food service director, had been trying to get its supper program off the ground for several years. But she found it difficult to dedicate the time needed. Her chance to implement the program came when she was able to expand her team and hire a manager for their outreach programs. “Many districts want to do things, but we wear a lot of hats in child nutrition, particularly the director,” she says, “and it’s really hard unless you have people that are really concentrated on the program constantly.”

When outreach coordinator Scott Schuster, he immediately got to work on the challenge of getting the community to understand and be fully on board with the program. Angelucci says that she and Schuster sought out those in the school community who were excited about the program to act as advocates and spread the word.

“In every school you have a champion, whether it’s a teacher, principal, vice principal, athletic director,” she says. “It’s those kinds of people that you get on your team to build momentum and get it off the ground.”

At Tuscaloosa City Schools, Food Service Director Carlton Robertson also took the time to build his team before he starting a supper program at the district this year. And he recommends that other operators looking to start a similar program to do the same. “Send an email to all your principals and ask them who’s interested in starting an afterschool program, as well as your employees,” he says, adding that operators should also reach out to their state agency to find out what training and type of paperwork they might need to complete.

Starting slow

While the supper program at Colonial served fewer than 54,000 meals last school year and close to 27,000 meals this school year as of December, Angelucci’s advice to other operators just starting out is to begin small and grow naturally. “Schools can often start slow. They don’t have to offer a large variety, they could just offer one choice. You can always add,” she says. “Some people make the mistake of trying to do too much too quickly and that’s why we wanted to start a pilot in the high school.”

Schuster agrees, noting that the team was better prepared for potential pitfalls as the program grew because they limited the number of schools initially.

“It’s a lot easier to handle challenges as they come when you’re working with one school starting off,” Schuster says. “You can develop those procedures and have that anticipatory action prior to some of these things happening rather than always having to be reactive in trying to fix certain challenges that you can face.”

Kid and athlete-friendly food

Chicken patties, turkey and cheese sandwiches, and pizza are some of the meals offered after school at Colonial. The staff also takes student athletes’ diets into consideration and works with coaches and the district’s dietitian to make sure athletes can meet their calorie requirements.

At Tuscaloosa, Robertson believes in “keeping it simple” when it comes to the menu and says the program serves student-favorite foods including chicken tenders, hot dogs, burgers and hot wings.

“We’re making food that we know the kids like,” he says. “We want to have it so the kids are enticed to come here… When we put kids first in the decision then we always come out with the right answers.”

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