By Greg Gelpi
Variety is the key ingredient to boosting school lunch participation, one cafeteria manager found. Taking it upon herself to revamp school lunch at Pointe South Middle School, cafeteria manager Susie Drakeford closed a dishwashing window and opened a world of choices to students.
Drakeford, who is in her second year as manager, changed the second dishwashing line into a cold meal serving line. Pointe South began offering wraps, sub sandwiches and salads daily for lunch, and the students have responded to the change.
In the first month of having the added options, lunch participation jumped 5 percent to 86.7 percent. And the numbers continue to climb, Jane Lofton, the director of school nutrition for Clayton County schools, said. A month later it was 88.1 percent. Of the 1,149 students at Pointe South, about 1,036 eat school lunch.
"She's building participation up, and I think it's all these choices," Lofton said. "She kind of does everything every day. I think it is phenomenal she has been able to do that."
She said that many schools offer the same or similar choices, but no other school offers all of those choices every day.
"They have been very creative in turning the (dishwashing) trough into an area for milk," Lofton said.
To increase the number of students drinking milk, the school added flavored milk, including vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. The school also offers several kinds of fruit each day, rather than the traditional one kind of fruit.
"Besides all of these choices, they have the hot meals," Lofton said.
She said that giving students choices is important especially in middle school because they are the most finicky eaters.
And even school staff eats in the cafeteria. About 35 to 40 eat the school lunch daily even though they aren't required to eat the food.
"I can't say I have ever had a bad meal here," Principal John Staten said. "I don't see any kids sitting down choosing not eat."
Eating a nutritious meal increases academic achievement, decreases discipline problems and enables cafeterias to operate more cost-effectively, Drakeford said.
"If a child can get a good lunch, they can do well in the classroom," she said. "Many children don't get to eat as well at home, and we hear that from the students."
A good meal also impacts student behavior, Lofton said.
"We've also discovered that students who are hungry are agitated and have more discipline problems," she said.
The changes at Pointe South are reflective of the changes going on in school cafeterias throughout Clayton County, Lofton said.
School cafeterias have less fried food and french fries, added more food cycles for the school year and trained cafeteria employees more.