A month and a half into the school year, the state’s largest district continues to face criticism about food shortages and the kinds of food being served to students.
Seattle Public Schools faced what employees called unprecedented food shortages earlier this school year, which led to unionized nutrition services workers taking a vote of no confidence in the district’s new nutrition services director, Aaron Smith, who took his position late last year.
In an interview, Smith acknowledged that the beginning of the school year was not smooth. He said the issues stemmed in part from an upgrade to the department’s computer system and some new employees coming on board.
But in recent weeks, parents have raised concerns as well. On Oct. 9, the parent-teacher association of Beacon Hill International Elementary School emailed the nutrition services department, superintendent and school board about insufficient amounts of food being delivered to the school.
“Some days there isn’t enough food for all of the kids to receive a lunch and some children leave the lunch room WITH NOTHING TO EAT,” the PTA wrote (capital letters included). “Our school staff tries to fill the gap with granola bars and crackers but it’s not enough.”
On Friday, one of the PTA officers posted in a Facebook forum that “a student just came to our lunchroom monitor crying because a yogurt and a roll were the only thing they had left to serve her” and that the monitor served her Cheez-It crackers and pepperoni sticks from his personal snack drawer.
Smith said he hadn’t seen the Facebook post.
“I would have to ask the manager why did that happen,” Smith said. “I did contact the central kitchen earlier today. I was notified that they received their exact order. Yogurt is an option for students, but we also have fruits, vegetables and other things to go with it.”
In a memo to the school board for the week of Oct. 7-11, Superintendent Denise Juneau said that distribution issues had led to menu substitutions at Beacon Hill at the start of the school year but that the kitchen “is well stocked and that all orders have been fulfilled during the past two weeks.”
Separately, a kitchen manager at Olympic Hills Elementary School, Lynne Lingafelter, has raised concerns about the menu items, saying they include too many sugary and unhealthy options. One breakfast option she received from the district included Cocoa Puffs, Cheez-It crackers and 100 percent fruit juice.
“I wouldn’t put it in front of my kids for breakfast when my kids were growing up,” Lingafelter said. “I look at all these kids as my extra kids – my grandkids.”
Smith said those items are part of breakfast kits that the district was trying out but is modifying after collecting feedback. He pointed out that the Cocoa Puffs are the low-sugar variety and the Cheez-Its are whole grain.
“All of them are school-certified items, but we are removing some of those items and replacing them with applesauce, raisins, craisins – more natural, better ingredients,” he said.
Smith said he’s hired a new chef, who is working on new recipes, and he aims to add more menu items, especially vegetarian choices.