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Grandparent compares school lunch to "dog food"

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Grandparent compares school lunch to "dog food"

By Matt Grant. CREATED Aug 31, 2012

FORT MYERS - School cafeteria lunches aren't exactly known for being five-star quality. But one Fort Myers grandfather says they're so bad most kids aren't even eating them and that could cost you money.

After having lunch with his grandkids in their school cafeteria, Mike Lancaster says he wouldn't touch what they're serving.

"It looked like something out of a dog food can," said Lancaster.

On this month's menu we found pizza, sloppy joes and a rib sandwich served with fruit cups and beans.

"A lot of it," said Lancaster, "doesn't look appetizing at all."

He said he wasn't impressed with their chicken either.

"It didn't look like a chicken," said Lancaster. "It looked like something that was whipped up and it was more like a puree type of thing."

Something he says he wouldn't touch.

"As an adult," said Lancaster, "I'd look at it and say I'd never eat that."

Here's some food for though: You're paying for these meals and most of it, according to Lancaster, is ending up in the trash.

"I saw more going into their trash bins than the kids really eating," he said. "They just dump their tray and you say look at all the food they're wasting."

Students are served annually to find out what foods they like and what ones they don't, according to the Lee County School District.

Menu changes are also made based on what's being thrown out, the district confirmed.

"We make every attempt to offer the most liked and acceptable items as possible," said district spokesman Joe Donzelli. "But...like other eating establishments, we never satisfy everyone."

"some of the main entree type stuff," said Lancaster, "they don't touch."

That's something that worries Lancaster, who sees more than just food being tossed out. He sees his tax dollars going in the garbage.

"That's money wasted," he said.

The district has to satisfy certain federal requirements in order to receive grant money for their free and reduced lunch program, which 70 percent of students are on.

That requires certain items be served. The district admits students sometimes don't like those items and they get thrown out.

District response

1. How does the district monitor the success of each menu item?

The success or failure of a menu item is monitored by the student acceptance observed by our café managers. Our dietitian also surveys our students face to face once they select a specific item for their feedback regarding likes or dislikes. We also monitor the actual district wide participation of specific selections.

2. How are menu items determined?

Menu items are determined by: federal requirements (nutrients, calories, number of grains, specific vegetable grouped offerings, and food groups;) by student acceptance; and by product cost. We survey our students annually on the entrees they prefer, we conduct taste samplings throughout the school year on new products and we establish a two week cycle based on all the factor above. Our goal is to always offer items that the majority of our students will select and enjoy. We never put an item on our menu without testing it for student acceptability first.

3. Does the district monitor what's being eaten versus what's being thrown away - and are menus changed based on that? How much thought is given to what percent of kids will eat what they're being served?

Yes we monitor what is being consumed and what is being thrown away in order to judge student acceptance of products being offered. We do make changes based on these results, but we can only make changes that do not violate our federal requirements of items that MUST be offered so that the District receives the meal subsidy funds. Since 70 % of our students are approved for Free or Reduced Meals these subsidies account for the majority of our revenue. Since Food and Nutrition Services utilizes these funds to support the entire Food Program (without any additional funds intended for education) we must adhere to the Federal meal component requirements.

According to Federal regulations a reimbursable meal must contain a specific number of “components”. These components must also meet the specific weekly requirements mentioned above. Our staff are required to assure each student selects at least the minimum number of components when they go through the serving line. Unfortunately the students sometimes do not always like all the required components and they discard those items into the trash can. We make every attempt to offer the most liked and acceptable items as possible but as the largest restaurant chain in the county, like other eating establishments, we never satisfy everyone.  

Lee Schools lunch Web site

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com