By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
When a lunchroom worker fills a food bar bin with sliced apples, Tony Goetz Elementary students fill their plates.
Some students choose berries, some load up on salad, some even choose scalloped potatoes. But apples are clearly the favorite.
However, elementary students at Muskogee Public Schools will soon no longer have such a choice. Federal regulations and rising costs have prompted the district’s Child Nutrition Service to discontinue the food bars at all 10 MPS elementary schools and for elementary students at Rougher Alternative Academy, said Jaime Speligne, the district’s director of child nutrition. Food bars at Alice Robertson Junior High, Muskogee High School and RAA will continue, she said.
Speligne said the food bars — where kids get hot vegetables, salads and fruit — will remain in operation at the elementary schools until the current order of fresh produce runs out.
“We have placed produce orders for next week,” she said.
The food bars could close within the next two weeks, she said.
The Healthy & Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 now requires public schools to serve fruits and vegetables on the trays, not as an option, she said.
Previous rules required schools to offer five items: milk, protein, fruits, breads and vegetables.
Parents of MPS elementary children had differing reactions to the food bar’s departure.
“If they aren’t going to get the food at the food bar, at least it will be on their plates,” said Tanya Martin, whose son, Donovan, is a Grant Foreman fourth-grader.
She said Donovan tends to pick fruit at the food bar.
“He does like broccoli without anything on it,” she added.
Adele McClure, the mother of a fourth-grader at Sadler Arts Academy, said she’d have to wait and see how things go without the food bar. She said her daughter would eat what is put on her plate.
“My daughter loves the vegetables and eats from the vegetable and fruit bar,” McClure said. “However, I don’t want to see it goes to waste.”
Speligne said the discontinuation could save the district $15,000 for the rest of the 2013 school year.
The new regulations have cost the Child Nutrition Service $323,000 for the 2013 school year, she said, adding that they prompted a $100,000 increase just in produce costs.
New regulations also required schools to double and even triple serving sizes of fruits and vegetables, she said.
The Child Nutrition Service is also taking other measures to cut costs. Speligne said it instituted a hiring freeze, which she estimated would save approximately $5,400. It would not affect the Summer Food Service Program, which gets funds from other sources.
Other cost-cutting measures include:
• Discontinuing the use of substitute workers after April 19, saving approximately $3,000.
• Reducing purchases of small equipment, saving approximately $8,000.
Speligne estimated the total savings for the 2013 school year at $31,900.
She said she plans to approach the school board to discuss cuts for the 2013-14 school year.
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.