Food changes on the menu in district

JOHNSTOWN – Greater Johnstown School District students sometimes dump their fruit and vegetables in the trash immediately after getting them. And they don’t like their sandwiches on wheat bread, definitely not on buns.

Those were observations from longtime district Food Service Program Director Teal Carpenter, who gave an update on her program to the Board of Education Tuesday at Johnstown High School.

Carpenter said her program operates as a “business” subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. But she said new regulations are forcing school systems to provide more nutritious meals, with portion and flavor changes that kids sometimes don’t relish.

“Things have changed, changed a lot in the last two years,” said Carpenter, a 30-year food service employee.

She said the district can only sell items with appropriate saturated fat and sugar. She said her program is running a deficit, but may break even by the end of the school year.

“I’ve never worked so diligently and accomplished so little,” she said.

Carpenter said the food service must provide reduced sodium in meals and must break meals up by grade groups. She said each group has a different caloric range and a serving size. One of those groups is sixth through eighth grade, which is problematic because it encompasses both the elementary schools and Knox Junior High.

Carpenter said if the food staff recognizes a child is in sixth grade versus fifth grade, he or she may get an extra item, such as an extra chicken nugget.

She said regulations say students must take a fruit and vegetable to make them “reimbursable” meals for the districts. She said those items are sometimes thrown immediately in the wastebasket.

“Kids are not real good on dark, green vegetables,” Carpenter said.

She said students generally don’t want their sandwiches on buns either, preferring bread.

She mentioned other various “restrictive” regulations that sometimes leave the students hungering for more. She said food service costs have increased and starting July 1, breads and other foods must be exclusively whole-grain rich. She said students have already expressed “some displeasure” about the changes, such as whole-grain pasta.

“They’re not used to it,” Carpenter said.

She said starting in July, the program also can’t sell some chips and can only sell these beverages: water and juice to elementary and junior high students; and water, juice and diet soda to high school students.

Meanwhile, she said participation on the Johnstown school meals has declined, although she is trying different menu items. Carpenter said she has tried competitive bidding and staff has been cut. She said the district uses commodity food and has a shared services agreement with the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services.