Like most school districts in areas with high numbers of students living in economically disadvantaged circumstances, Christina Schools in Delaware seeks to reach as many kids as possible during the summer with healthful meals. The district operates the program mostly at its school sites but recently expanded to offer a supper each Friday at the Glasgow Farmer’s Market, which takes place in a space located around the corner from the district high school.
In its first foray, the initiative drew 31 kids, but that count has recently doubled to around 60, showing growing awareness and acceptance, says Andrea Solge, supervisor of child nutrition services.
“It’s basically a partnership with the New Castle County Farmers Market in Delaware,” Solge explains, noting that Christina isn’t the only district in the county with such a program.
“I thought, ‘My gosh, [the farmers’ market] is right across from one of my high schools and elementaries, and I thought this was a great opportunity to pad my meal [counts] and get some business going.”
The nutrition department team did site visits to determine the best way to approach the opportunity, then launched the program earlier this summer.
“We started out with chicken strawberry salads and those types of things, thinking the farmers’ market is where people go to purchase fresh,” Solge recalls. “But honestly, that’s not what the kids want,” so she started to menu more kid-friendly but still healthy items like chicken patty sandwiches with fruit and vegetables, cold protein packs with cheese and turkey sticks and little bagels with cream cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh fruit/yogurt packets. The PB&J sandwiches and yogurt/fruit packs are regular selections and each Friday features one hot selection as well.
The items are kept at temperature in insulated bins for the time of the service, which is two hours, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (the farmers’ market itself operates from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Hot sandwiches are wrapped in aluminum foil and placed together in a bin. “I found that placing one insulated cooler over another keeps the bottom one scorching hot,” Solge remarks. “I couldn’t believe it!”
Everything is directed at child customers, with all kids age 18 and under eligible for the free meals, which are unobtrusively kept track of using a simple clicker as Solge says she didn’t want to have anything more prominent to possibly intimidate or confuse potential customers. There are no adult meal sales as to avoid having to deal with taking and tracking cash.
The food is prepped at the nearby high school kitchen, which also serves as a breakfast site over the summer. The work for the farmers’ market suppers is done by one Serv-Safe-certified staffer over a four-hour period in which she does the prep, takes the food, equipment and signage over to the market, serves and then cleans up. She is generally accompanied by a couple of dietitians or department supervisors who oversee the activities and help with the service. Clean-up usually doesn’t take long as the meals generally sell out, Solge says.
The serving itself is done out of a covered pavilion at the farmers’ market site.
“I’m lucky enough to have a pavilion that has a roof over my head,” Solge laughs. “We have a great location near a barn where they have arts and crafts vendors, so there’s a lot of traffic going in and out of there and over to the food vendors and farmers areas. We try to flag them down and let them know we’re here.”
One strategy to entice kids over was to offer some activities, such as a nutrition trivia game with a spinning wheel overseen by a dietitian who also offered some simple nutrition information along the way to the kids and families. As luck would have it, the initial trivia game gambit took place the same day as the market’s monthly kids activity day, when more kids were on hand, “and they just thought it was the greatest thing, not only to get their meals but also have games to play,” Solge observes.
She is slowly building up a set of regulars, groups of families who sit together with their kids and are making it a regular Friday outing. The child supper service area has picnic tables where the meals can be consumed.
“We’re comfortable with what we’re doing, we have it down now,” Solge summarizes.