The fourth-grader at Banta Elementary School was one of many students who began their lunch with a smile. The meal was part of a new all-natural menu that the Banta School District recently adopted, and its wholesome effects are already squashing hunger.
Students had pasta and pizza on Wednesday, Aug. 15, the first day of school and serving of the new food.
“The other food last year just tasted kind of weird,” said Joseph, 9. “The pizza this year tastes like pizza.”
The three-person school board voted 3-0 on Aug. 9 to approve a one-year contract for food services with Oakland-based Revolution Foods — a company that offers made-daily meals consisting of fresh ingredients, with low sodium and increased nutritional value, according to the company website.
Superintendent Albert Garibaldi said the all-natural selection attracted district officials.
“It seems like the best fit, because it’s all fresh ingredients,” he said.
According to Sally Duquin, food services coordinator at the school, the food is cooked at a distribution center in Oakland and delivered to the school daily. The previous food provider, Preferred Meal Systems, of Berkeley, Ill., would deliver frozen meals that took longer to prepare each day. Now, the food simply needs to be heated in a warmer until it’s ready to be served.
Fresh fruits and a salad bar will still be offered with lunch.
“We never have to freeze anything again — it’s all fresh,” Duquin said. “The kids have really responded well to it. Everyone likes it, and we heard a lot of good things on the first day.”
Amber Anguiano said she prefers the new lunches over the previous year’s options.
“It’s all fresh, and I don’t like the frozen stuff,” said the 11-year-old sixth-grader. “I packed lunch today, but I want to get more of the school food.”
With the expiration of the district’s contract with Preferred Meal Systems set for the end of the 2011-12 school year, the district opened its food contract for bids last summer.
According to Garibaldi, Revolution’s bid came in higher than some, “but a lot lower than others.”
After selecting finalists for the contract, district officials had a taste test with parents and students in the spring.
“Everyone seemed to like Revolution for its freshness and quality,” Garibaldi said. “So we knew it had a good chance of working when we approved the contract.”
But with better quality comes a higher price.
Janet Gregory, business coordinator for the district, said the new program will cost $145,000 — about a $22,000 increase over the previous provider. But that could be offset depending on participation levels, she said.
The price for a regular lunch increased 75 cents to $3, while breakfast held steady at $1.25, according to Garibaldi. The school, with a student enrollment of 325, serves about 240 hot lunches a day, he said.
Price increases, however, won’t affect students participating in the free and reduced-cost lunch program, because the cost still falls under federal reimbursement levels, Garibaldi said.
“Ultimately, we chose Revolution Foods based on the quality price and delivery,” he said. “We decided it was the best fit, and we’re excited about the healthiness that our students are going to get for the price.”
After this school year, the district will have the option to renew its contract with Revolution, Gregory said. A bidding process is only required every four to five years, she noted.