Students to Get More Fruits and Vegetables

School Committee approves year extension of Chartwell's food service contract.


More legumes, lettuce, whole wheat and fruit will be on students' plates next year.

After some School Committee members and the student representative two weeks ago served at Swampscott schools, the committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a year extension of Chartwell's food service contract.

The committee members seemed pleased at the new direction by Chartwell's to serve healthier meals to the students.

"I love school lunch," Maureen Kellett, director of dining services, told the committee. She invited the committee members to have lunch with the students or she offered to bring a sample of lunch to the committee before one of its meetings.

Chairman Larry Beaupre, a one-time vegetarian, asked for teriyaki chicken, one of the new items Kellett said the school cafeterias are serving. 

The new contract raises the price of lunches by 10 cents. Elementary school students will now pay $2.40 for lunch, while middle and high school students will pay $2.65.

The lunch program will cost the district about $48,283 for next year, the same as this year. Chartwells has budgeted a loss guarantee to the district of $43,313.

Driven mostly by new federal and state school food guidelines, Chartwells has been preparing for the new rules by introducing healthier items in the menu over the last year.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

The cooks have substituted whole wheat flour in the pizza dough. "The kids love it. I think it is delicious," Kellett said. Several committee members agreed, saying their children like the school pizza better than other pizzas. 

The new guidelines from the federal government require that the students take a half cup of either a fruit or vegetable with their lunch. If they don't, and the schools cannot make them, the federal government will not reimburse Chartwells. That means the school district will have to pay for that meal.

Kellett said Chartwells will introduce more dark greens, orange and red vegetables and legumes, mostly beans.

Half of the grains served must be whole wheat. So it will be adding whole grains to its rolls, muffins, pancakes and cereals, as well as the popular pizza, Kellett said.

The regulations also require lower salt content in foods, Kellett said. Chartwells is working with food manufacturers to provide lower-sodium items and is designing its own recipes that substitutes seasonings and herbs in place of salt, she said.

Nothing Fried

Chartwells has also stopped frying foods. "We fry nothing," she said.

The federal requirement is that less than 10 percent of all calories can come from saturated fats. So Chartwells has begun baking items instead of frying them. The deep fat fryers have been removed from the kitchen, she said.

The Massachusetts new school nutrition bill is even more stringent than the federal guidelines, Kellett said.

That law has banned all beverages that can be sold at school except for 4 ounce 100 percent fruit beverages, skim or 1 percent milk, water that has no sugar or any type of sweetner and any beverage with caffeine.

The food items sold cannot have more than 200 calories, no more than 35 percent of calories from sugar, no more than 200 milligrams of sodium and all breads and pastries must be 100 percent whole grain.

No Cupcakes

Maybe the most controversial part of the state law is its impact on school parties, particularly cupcake parties. The Stanley School has already banned birthday parties. And the committee is considering if it should adopt a district-wide ban on sugary foods at parties.

"It has not been well received," said Stanley School Principal Pam Angelakis.

She said the school recognizes birthdays by giving the students non-food treats and pencils. She said she has had several upset parents call her complaining.

"It will be a very challenging, difficult next year," said Theresa Minnucci, Chartwell's Northeast Regional Manager.

It was unclear to the committee or the food vendors if high school students would be prohibited from leaving campus to bring back items from Dunkin' Donuts or other high-calorie fast food shops.

Chartwells is also expanding its vegetarian menu. It already serves veggie burgers daily and is working on a meatless spaghetti sauce. Kellett said she wants to try the salad bar again, although mostly the teachers ate from the salad bar that was tried last year.

The committee asked if organizations that want to hold fundraising parties could buy pizza from Chartwells. Kellett said. 

Citizen Swamp June 22, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Let me get this straight. We subsidize Chartwell's, provide them with a captive customer base. Now we would like to undercut local taxpaying businesses by buying pizza from Chartwells for student fundraising events. I would assume this will lower the school depts. loss on the lunch program. How about letting our over taxed local businesses make a buck every so often. CS
Restless June 23, 2012 at 01:36 AM
The is a difference between whole wheat flour and whole grain flour. If the law states whole grain then whole wheat is not the same. Also there is not much of a difference between deep frying something and soaking something in oil and then baking it. The lack of transparency at Chartwells has troubled me for years and as a result my children bring food from home. I would like to see the calorie, fat and sodium content of each meal posted on the menus each month so parents can judge for themselves.
Daniel Bromberg June 23, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I agree with the comment about lack of transparency. I want to add that Chartwells also has no clear of often-used method of feedback. If Chartwells is making food that students or parents find questionable, it is rare that anyone ever actually says anything. There is also no one held responsible if the food is not up to the community's standards. Without any checks on it's power, Chartwells can do virtually anything it wants, which includes serving food that is nearly inedible and unhealthy.
Restless June 23, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The town wanted cheap and it got what it was prepared to pay for. It is particularly bad at the Elementary level where there are no food prep areas in the schools so it is cooked and then hauled in. I know it is better at the middle and high school. I took a loose survey of the classes my children have been in and almost all of the children who eat school meals every day in those classes have weight issues compared to the children who bring food in. Mrs Kellett gets defensive when asked about the meals and has been reticent in the past about allowing people to examine the nutrition labels that come attached to the food. I would like to see an investigation into the system Salem uses at the moment and would be prepared to help out with this effort.
Myjanda June 23, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Not sure I understand the comment on swampscott subsidizing chartwells. Chartwells is a food provider and I'm sure we pay them the cost of each meal purchased,It is the federal gov that then subsidizes each school district for meals actually eaten, the $ depending on the number of free, reduced students eating. As for the meals themselves, taste IS something that chartwells 'owns' so if people aren't happy there look for another provider. And if the town has asked chartwells for information and they arent forthcoming, make that a condition of any contract renewal. Also, the district should certainly be working with chartwells and families/students to make sure everyone is happy with the actual menus. But the state DESE performs food audits every few years of each district, observing how meals are served, and going over in great deal all the nutritional labels from the food provider (in our case chartwells) to make sure they are 100% in line with the fed requirements which are strict in terms of sodium, fat etc, and if not, the district has to make changes or risk not getting the fed reimbursement funds. So not sure what you would like to see from chartwells that they aren't providing, but they are for sure in compliance with fed school lunch requirements. Now, whether we agree with THOSE is a different story. I assume, but can't say for sure, that you can request copies of the latest swampscott food audit from the dese to see how it went.


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