Madison-Plains’ food service adapts to pandemic-related challenges

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(Posted Dec. 20, 2021)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Adapting–it’s an ongoing state of operations during the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly every facet of a school district. Food service certainly is no exception.

Sherri Allen, food service supervisor at Madison-Plains Local Schools, said the 2021-22 school year started with challenges, including illness and food and supply shortages.

“It was a rough beginning, but we muddled through it, and we learned along the way. It continues to be a struggle each week,” she said at the Dec. 14 school board meeting.

Bright spots have emerged, though, she added.

Normally, federal guidelines require school districts to follow certain guidelines when menu planning. Choices must adhere to calorie counts, sodium and saturated fats restrictions, a certain percentage of whole grains, and so on. That can be difficult to do when certain foods are hard to get, Allen said. To help school districts address this issue, the United States Department of Agriculture issued waivers this school year. Districts can order alternative items without penalty when compliant items are not available.

Another bright spot is Healthy Pro, new software that will help Allen and her staff plan menus and allow school nurses to check for things like allergens and carbohydrate counts for certain students. Allen is working through a training on the software now. When it is up and running, parents and guardians will have access to an app to see the menus for each day, complete with nutritional information.

Todd Mustain, district treasurer, noted that federal COVID-19 relief funds distributed through the county government covered the cost of the software.

Allen also was happy to report that participation in the Seamless Summer meal option is up. The federal program offers free breakfast and lunch to students at all grade levels. Participation in grades K-6 is up 42 percent for breakfast and 43 percent for lunch. Participation at the junior high and high school is up 71 percent for breakfast and 60 percent for lunch.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, Allen recognized the members of her food service team, praising them for going above and beyond their job duties each day and for making connections with the students.

“They build a rapport with the students. That’s rare for lunch ladies to just intertwine with them and talk to them. These kids know they can come and just have a talk with them if they want to… They are making a difference,” she said.

Chad Eisler, district superintendent, praised the food service staff for weathering pandemic-related issues over the past two school years, including closures, food shortages, and packing food to go home with students.

“There are two things: We have to be able to transport kids and we have to be able to feed the kids to be able to have school. So, their work is incredibly important,” he said.

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