SB mulls hot lunch program

By on October 25, 2013

KANELAND—Hot meals will be whipped up and delivered via vans to Kaneland elementary schools if the Kaneland School Board gives the green light.

The possibility of having a hot lunch program at the elementary school level was a topic of discussion at the Kaneland School Board meeting on Oct. 16.

Gigi Gochee-Statler, director of Food Service, said that the lunches are nutritional and could be cold one day a week.

The hot lunch issue has been in the works for about two years. Currently, elementary students dine on sack lunches during lunchtime.

According to a report by Dr. Julie-Ann Fuchs, assistant superintendent for Business, and Gochee-Statler, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee had asked the Kaneland administration to investigate this matter.

Fuchs and Gochee-Statler had researched the effect nutrition has on children and adolescents.

“Undernourished children are more likely to have low energy and difficulty concentrating,” the report said. “Basic nutrition needs must be met for children to successfully learn at school. The lack of proper nutrition can be considered a barrier to optimal learning, which helps to justify nutrition services for school-aged children.”

Information obtained on interest of hot lunches is based on Kaneland families of elementary students, who filled out a parent survey through the Kaneland Konnect conducted August and September.

The results are based on the 587 responses out of 1,653 Kaneland families, the report noted.

The survey showed that 75 percent expressed interest in a daily hot lunch option that would cost “approximately” $2.15 each day. The report stated that the hot lunch would cost $2.25 for the first year. As discussed in the meeting, the cost can increase.

Board member Tony Valente questioned if the program would be “cost neutral.”

Gochee-Statler responded by saying the program would “wash itself.”

The report explained that recurring expenses to maintain the lunch program would annually be about $150,000. This cost, it said, would be offset by the revenue generated from students buying lunches, and some reimbursed money through the National School Lunch Program.

The report estimated that the “initial one-time start-up costs” is approximately $110,000, noting that the cost includes equipment, vehicles and technology for the preparation and receiving facility.

The food would be prepared at the old Kaneland Middle School on Meredith Road. Two vans would deliver to the four Kaneland elementary school buildings.

Board President Cheryl Krauspe expressed her concern.

“It feels like a convenience for elementary-aged parents,” Krauspe said. “(I’m) not sure I can support it.”

Gochee-Statler spoke about the positives for students.

“If they’re offered a nutritious meal, that becomes the standard in their life,” she said.

Gochee-Statler added that students have tried hummus and fish tacos and said, “That wasn’t so bad.”

School Board Vice President Teresa Witt weighed in on the matter.

“To me, it’s luxury,” Witt said. “If they really want it, I say put it to a referendum.”

The survey asked if one hot lunch option was available, would the parent still participate in the program? The result was that 350, or 60 percent of the parents, said yes, and 144, or 25 percent, said maybe.

“If your kids don’t like the hot dog, they’re not going to buy the hot dog,” Witt said.

Witt said that it is not known if students will buy lunches everyday.

Board member Veronica Bruhl spoke about some students packing Lunchables for lunch because it is “easy and convenient.” She said that Lunchables are high in sodium.

“It’s just a great option,” Bruhl said of the hot lunch program.

Krauspe brought the matter home in terms of the $110,000 start-up cost.

“It’s three teachers for a year,” Krauspe said.

“This is a one-time cost,” said Kaneland Superintendent Dr. Jeff Schuler.

Meanwhile, Fuchs will continue to research this lunch program. This matter can be back on the table in February, and the decision whether to approve it could happen in the spring.

If approved, students could order lunches by next school year.

Lunch items would include chicken nuggets, whole grain roll, salad, carrots, mandarin oranges and 1 percent milk.

Valente ended with a pressing question.

“Chocolate milk an option?” Valente asked.

“Fat free chocolate milk,” Gochee-Statler said.