Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.
Here’s your list for the week of Aug. 8:
1. Students get creative with leftover meal swipes
College student are known for being crafty, especially when it comes to leftover meal plan swipes. In this story from the New York Times (full disclosure: I was quoted in the story), the world of meal plan swipe sharing on college campuses is discussed. From campus websites helping to match up students with additional meal swipes with those students in need to selling swipes on Facebook, students are finding ways to game the system. In some cases, students are becoming increasingly vocal about mandatory meal plans, with petitions and even state legislatures getting involved.
2. School meal poverty counts questioned in Nebraska
A district’s free and reduced lunch percentage is used for many things beyond USDA qualification and reimbursement, including Title I and poverty funding from the state. Now, some Nebraska lawmakers say the school meal numbers are causing too many errors since a recent audit of the Nebraska Department of Education found a 9.3 percent error rate of the true free and reduced percentage for a district, which is much lower than the last time the issue was brought up in 2007, when a lawmaker found the error rate at 21 percent. The national error rate was found to be 9.8 percent last year. There are many reasons for errors, including human error and parents simply not filling out the reports (which would actually lower the error rate). Another complication is CEP, which allows states to feed all children for free without having families fill out paperwork (districts are still reimbursed from the USDA based on its free and reduced percentage). Federal and state officials admit that using school meal counts as the basis for other funding isn’t perfect but they say it’s the best option available. Currently, districts are required to verify 3 percent of their free and reduced meal applications. There is language in certain child nutrition reauthorization bill drafts that increase that percentage.
Read more: Free- and reduced-price lunch numbers questioned in state audit
3. Montana State serving student-raised meat in dining hall
It doesn’t get much more local than this. Montana State University (MSU) Dining Services is purchasing meat from cows raised by the university’s students. The purchasing is, in part, being accomplished through the Montana Made Program, the goal of which is to increase local purchases for foodservice operations like universities. The steers are being raised by agriculture students through the Steer-A-Year program at the university. Last year 20 percent of MSU’s food purchases were from local vendors. Dining services expects to purchase 3,600 pounds of beef from the Steer-A-Year program.
4. Local restaurateur takes over foodservices at California’s Capitol
Chris Jarosz, who has ownership stakes in five California restaurants, will be taking over the foodservice program at the state’s Capitol building. Currently, there are dining areas in the basement and sixth floors and a coffee shop. Jarosz says he will replace the current vendors with concepts that feature farm-to-fork menu inspiration drawing from California’s rich agricultural history. He plans to start renovations in October and the concept in the basement will feature both grab-and-go dishes, made-to-order options and a retail section offering agricultural products tied to the area.
5. Parents take to social media in compliant of child’s meal
I include this item this week because it’s becoming an increasingly important aspect for child nutrition managers to tackle: criticism on social media. One parent in Tennessee said her child wasn’t getting enough food during lunch and also criticized the food selections (she says one of her child’s lunches consisted of two medium pretzels, a container of cheese dip and a half-cup bowl of corn). This isn’t the first time since implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that school meals have come under fire for not providing enough to eat (who can forget the We Are Hungry parody). Social media isn’t a strong point for many child nutrition directors, partly because many school districts block access to the sites on campus computers. But many people—not just parents but also students—are communicating their frustrations with school meal programs on these channels. So it’s becoming paramount for directors to understand the medium and learn the best ways to respond to criticism. If you’ve had success responding to complaints via social media, please reach out and let me know how you did so. You can email me at [email protected].
Read more: Parents criticize Union Co. school lunches