What’s the dish on Rock Hill’s lunches?

New food service offers more choices school_lunchRockHill

photo by Jessica St. James

Mackenzie Blankenship is seen in the cafeteria at the Rock Hill Middle School eating lunch Friday afternoon. Rock Hill schools are taking part in a healthier eating program that allows the students more choices.

By Michelle Goodman (Contact) | The Tribune

Published Monday, September 6, 2010

If you have a child in the Rock Hill school district, you may have noticed a change in the lunch program.

Superintendent Wes Hairston proposed to the school board that the lunch program be changed on a one-year trial basis.

“It was a recommendation that I made,” said Superintendent Hairston

The reason for the change, he said, was to cut the food service loss in half as well as provide more nutritious meals for the students.

“If it’s successful, we’ll continue with it,” said Hairston.

According to Hairston, the food management program in the Rock Hill district lost $524,000 last year in food and labor cost. The new program management company, Taher Inc., promises to cut the school’s loss in half. Hairston said that Taher has guaranteed to reimburse the school $250,000 if last year’s loss is not cut in half.

Also according to Hairston, the state suggested that the district has too many cooks.

With the new program, Hairston said, “No one is going to lose a job. That’s not going to happen.”

The new program has increased the cost of lunch for some students. Previously, breakfast and lunch were provided for free. Currently, breakfast is still free, but a lunch for students who don’t meet the requirements for free or reduced lunch is $1.50 for elementary and middle school students and $2 for high school students. Cost for faculty members is $3.

Hairston said that no one would be denied a meal.

The menus have also changed to healthier options with more choices, said Hairston.

On Sept. 3, for example, the menu consisted of orange chicken with rice, steamed broccoli, or a taco meal with tortilla chips and toppings. Fresh fruit and vegetables were also served.

“It’s interesting to try healthy food,” said seventh grader MacKenzie Blankenship. She said she enjoyed the orange chicken, but did not care for the steamed broccoli.

Gavin Boggs and Josh Bishop, also seventh graders at MacKenzie’s table, said that they didn’t like the orange chicken option, but have enjoyed some of the meals.

One of the favorite meals has been the homemade cheese pizza.

“It was like real cheese, not like rubber,” said Gavin.

Seventh grade girls at another table said they like the lunch menus better now, including the popcorn chicken and cheese pizza.

“I like that we have choices now,” said Tabatha Logsdon.

The health and physical education teacher at the middle school, Theresa Arden said, “I buy everyday now.”

She also said she thinks the change is positive.

“I like the variety. I like the nutrition, and it tastes good,” she said. “The kids seem to enjoy it. You notice less food being thrown away.”

Over at the elementary school, fourth grader Brandon Donley said of the new food, “I love it.”

His classmate Brandon McGuire also said, “I like it.” He even said he liked the broccoli.

Candy Cochran teaches second, third and fourth graders.

She said of the children, “I think they like it better. They like choosing.”

Everyone has not welcomed the changes to the food program with open arms.

Some of the school’s cooks have said that the new menus are much more work, with not enough staff. They also don’t think that the food is any healthier than before.

These cooks did not want to be named or quoted.

One cook, Peggy Ison, at the elementary school, said she thinks the food is good, but the younger children find it unfamiliar.

“They may adjust,” Ison said. “It’s not what these kids eat at home. They are getting a lot more to try.”

Hairston said he as only received one parent complaint so far. He said an anonymous caller called to complain about the portion sizes at the high school. Hairston said he contacted Taher about the issue.

Hairston also said that the program is important because it saves money for the students’ education.

“I’d much rather put my dollars into student success,” he said. “My goal is to put the money back into the students.”