Cafeteria Food Changes to Come

By Ivana Kosir

Organic Life–a food service provider that specializes in fresh, local and organic food–has signed a new contract with District 219 starting July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012.

The Board of Education wanted a food service provider who could provide healthier meals at a lower cost, according to community relations director Jim Szczepaniak. After comparing and contrasting multiple companies such as Organic Life, Aramark, Sodexho America, and Taher, the administration suggested Organic Life and Taher due to the fact that they both offer healthy meals at lower costs, Szczepaniak said.

Organic Life will provide food service under the National School Lunch Program, a program where the government reimburses the district for the free-and-reduced-price lunches, and Taher’s proposal is under the Non-Fee-for-Service model which, in essence, means that students who pay for full price lunches will pay additionally for the lunches of free-and-reduced price paying students.

Organic Life was chosen after it provided the lowest bid to provide a “Type A meal,” the meal which is offered to students on a free and reduced-price meal plan, and will also be available at a low cost to all students. “Because the government will reimburse us for most of the costs of free and reduced-price meals, we will not have to charge paying students a lot more to subsidize those costs,” according to Szczepaniak.

Listed in the Board Packet from May 31, 2011, a “negative” for a National School Lunch Program provider like Organic Life was an increase in OEPP, or operating expenses per pupil, by $250. Although the Board of Education’s goal is to lower the OEPP, they felt that Organic Life had more to offer than lose.

“Although the board continues to take steps to reduce the growth of our OEPP, board members decided that the benefits of moving to the NSLP were greater for the district, namely, an estimated $654,000 in reimbursements, an amount that is predicted to increase, given that the percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals continues to grow,” wrote Szczepaniak in an email.

Organic Life will serve foods such as chicken tenders with creamy whipped mashed potatoes, grass-fed beef burger served on a fresh whole-wheat bun with roasted potatoes, and organic meatballs served with cavatappi pasta and fresh tomato-basil sauce.

The cost to the students has not been determined yet, but it will be decided over the summer, Szczepaniak said.

“The goal is to provide students with healthier foods at a lower tab than what they are paying with the current provider,” he said.

Principal Kaine Osburn stated in an email that although the members in the student government who participated in the taste testing overall liked the food, he doesn’t know how students will react.

“I don’t have any concrete opinion about how students will respond. It will be an interesting transition for the students at Niles West,” Osburn wrote.

Senior Nick Flatley, a member of student government, participated in the taste testing.

“They had an array of healthy and delicous foods that will surely please the diverse group of students at Niles West,” said Flatley.

Senior-to-be Aladin Bihorac says he’s pretty happy about the changes.

“As long as it’s better than last year’s food, yes [I’m happy for the change],” Bihorac said.

Students said they were upset with the current provider’s attempt to make regularly greasy foods nutritious, like pizza and curly fries.

“They try to make everything healthy. Who puts whole wheat on cheap pizza?” Bihorac commented.

According to Bihorac, students want more variety in the food options and lower prices because “they were ridiculous.”