Lunch at Beye schoolFile 2004

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will continue receiving lunch and breakfast meals prepared by Oak Park and River Forest High School for the upcoming school year.

The five-year agreement between D97 and the high school ends this June. Since 2006, OPRF has provided meals for the district’s elementary and middle school kids.

Therese O’Neill, D97’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the new deal is for the 2011-12 school year; after that, the district would pursue a multiyear deal. The program, she added, is self-sustaining. But she explained that a one-year deal will allow the district and high school to address some recent issues with the food sales — namely, a decline this year in students buying meals.

For the first three years, meal sales increased annually, from about 298,000 in 2008 to roughly 330,000 in 2010. There was a slight decrease this year to about 324,000 meals sold.

O’Neill said the drop is likely due to the economy and parents preparing their kids’ lunches. But another reason is students passing on more nutritional offerings, O’Neill said. When kids hit the lunch line, they’re given the meal of that particular day, but she said the schools are seeing a lot of food being thrown away.

“[In spite of] a valiant effort to prepare more nutritional meals, children being children, they are choosing not to eat those meals, and we’re seeing waste at the school level,” O’Neill said, reporting to the school board at their May 10 regular meeting.

“There has been no increase in the unit price for meals,” she added, “so then you have to start asking yourself if we saw this growth, why are we beginning to see some erosion of that number of meals served? One of the desires of this program was for the preparation and consumption of more nutritional meals by our children, and I think the high school has worked earnestly to do that.”

O’Neill noted the district is following federal guidelines that mandate more nutritional offerings to school children. She suggested providing D97 students more choices that are also still nutritional.

Some board members weren’t overly concerned with wasted food as long as the program is self-sustaining. Others suggested composting the discarded items, which some schools do. But O’Neill and members acknowledged it’s difficult to get kids to eat healthy. Board members also noted that the lunchroom environment may be a deterring factor also. Kids have about 20 minutes to stand in line, get their meals and head to a table, they noted. Some students, they said, say it feels like “an assembly line.”

The school board is scheduled to finalize the agreement on May 24.

What do parents, kids think about the program?

The district in January conducted a survey with parents and kids about the food service program. It was given in print and online. Here are some of the findings:

  • 2,900 responses received from students; 407 parents responded
  • One-third of students responding said they eat at their school daily; another third said they eat the lunch once a week
  • Many students said they weren’t provided enough food — 63 percent of middle school students and 41 percent of elementary kids
  • Favorite offerings — chicken fingers, popcorn chicken and pizza dippers; least favorite — ravioli, turkey burgers and grilled cheese
  • About half of the parents responding said their children just don’t like how some school’s lunch items taste.
  • Seventy-six percent of parents feel a good variety of options are currently being offered
  • Parent-suggested food items to add — more vegan options, as well as soup, salad and sandwich choices



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