Jeff Swartz and the 42 members of the Child Nutrition Department staff are responsible for not only feeding the 3,200 students in Clinton City Schools, but ensuring the meals meet nutritional requirements, and at a low cost.
In accordance with state statute, school systems are required to comply with regulatory requirements for nutritional content of both school breakfasts and lunch. While this task may seem easy, Swartz, who is the director of the department, said it requires more than simply making a menu and ordering and serving food.
“My managers just can’t decide they want to serve something because they think the students will like it,” Swartz said. “A lot of planning and analyzing goes into the meals and making the menus.”
Rita Corbett, Nutrition Department supervisor, has the responsibility of analyzing the nutritional data, plugging the information into a formula and from the results, developing a menu that not only offers students the required components of a meal, but offers choices the students will enjoy.
“Our recipes are developed for all the schools,” Swartz said. “Rita works hard to make these recipes so that all schools are serving the same thing and following the required nutritional components.”
Knowing what the requirements are isn’t a job just Swartz and Corbett are responsible for doing. Swartz said his entire staff, including cafeteria managers and workers, must know every student’s needs and the requirements the state has mandated as part of the National School Lunch Act.
According to Swartz, the system is required to submit copies of the menu analysis done on a weekly basis, two times each year. These analysis should demonstrate USDA nutrient standards have been met for calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
School lunches are required to offer five different components. Students must be provided either skim or 1 percent milk, water, bread, a meat or protein and fruits and vegetables. Cafeteria employees aren’t just responsible for knowing what components are necessary, but they must ensure students are making the right choices and fulfilling the necessary standards for each meal.
Satisfying all the needs of the students is a hard job, but a task Swartz and his staff are eager to complete.
“We have to serve what is acceptable to our students,” Swartz said. “We want them to eat and we want them to eat enough.”
The local school system was faced with a huge problem just a few years ago, when all bread products served had to be whole grain. Now, Swartz said, thanks to a waiver, only 51 percent of the bread products must be whole grain.
“We were noticing a lot of waste,” Swartz attested. “Students just won’t eat some things when they are made with whole grain.”
Swartz doesn’t only try to save the department, which is fully self-supporting of a $3 million budget, he works to project that costs savings to the students by keeping lunch prices low. For the last five years, lunch prices have stayed at $1.85 for full price lunches, because of Swartz’ efforts.
“Lunch prices are set to raise by a certain amount each year,” Swartz explained. “As a system, we can request a waiver to not raise our lunch prices, and I have done that for the last five years.”
When determining the waiver grant, Swartz said the state looks at the department’s three month operating balance and the department’s compliance with all state regulations. Without the waiver, students in Clinton City Schools would be paying $2.35 for full price lunches.
“Without the waiver, we were supposed to raise the lunch prices by 10 cents every year,” Swartz explained. “Our managers have done an excellent job at keeping our costs low and making sure those regulations are followed so that we aren’t hit with any violations.”
In Clinton City Schools, Swartz said that 73 percent of the student body is receiving either free or reduced lunches. With only 27 percent of the students paying full price, at 10 cent increases each year, Swartz said that would only bring an additional $10,000 into the budget.
“When you are looking at a $3 million budget, that $10,000 a year isn’t much,” Swartz said.
For the last 20 years, Clinton City Schools have taken pride in the fact that they provide a free breakfast for all students.
“There was a time when only kids who received free meals were the ones eating breakfast,” Swartz said. “We wanted all our students to eat breakfast, so that’s when we went to free breakfast for all students. We generate enough funds from our lunches that we can absorb the cost.”
System wide, Swartz said about 70 percent of the students are taking advantage of the free breakfast and eating every morning.
Provided Swartz and his staff meet all the requirements and guidelines, the system is reimbursed for the difference for all free and reduced lunches.
“We don’t only ensure we are meeting the nutritional guidelines, but we make sure we are making a budget,” Swartz said.
As an additional and nutritional measure, Swartz purchases produce from local vendors. Fresh strawberries are served when in season, as is squash, cabbage, asparagus and lettuce.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.