Photo: John Anderson

Photo: John Anderson

It has been quite some time since I had a school lunch, and even longer since I ate with a group of first grade students. Janice King, Food Service Director for the Auburn Public Schools, invited me to Bryn Mawr’s “Bring a Special Friend to Lunch Day” on November 21st to have a look at the lunch process and sample the cuisine. I was not disappointed.

I also joined Principal Elizabeth Chamberland on a tour of the new and renovated portable classrooms where students were doing some Thanksgiving projects with their special friends. The new space is most impressive and desperately needed in this slightly crowded school. Hats off to Joe Fahey’s team on another great improvement.

In the cafeteria, students and friends were shown a large selection of lunch options. The main course was whole grain spaghetti with plain or meat sauce and grated cheese, but cereal, bagels, yogurt, bread, fruit, and salad were also available. The selection process was probably harder for the adult guests than the students who appeared to have their regular favorites. As for those special guests, in addition to the expected parent or grandparent, two older brothers came over from the Swanson Road Intermediate School to have lunch with their sibling. They, of course, were experts at the lunch routine. After eating their lunches, students were presented some educational coloring books to read.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the standards for school lunches and also supplies about 20% of the food. The other 80% comes from a multi-district collaborative. The USDA’s Team Nutrition program sets some high nutrition goals that schools must follow, and that has not been an easy process. King told Auburn Mass Daily, “Policy gets ahead of delivery and taste. We’re waiting for the food industry to catch up. Healthy food is so important to the kids.”

When Janice King was hired in January of 2014, her time was split between Auburn and Leicester. This arrangement didn’t allow enough time for either district, and she began working solely for Auburn in the fall of 2015. When she first arrived, Auburn was spending about $70,000 on processed foods, and that number is around $7,000 today. To make this reduction, it was necessary to build the skill sets of the staff so they could prepare more meals in house, and they have responded well. She can even foresee some district-wide food preparation at the large renovated SWIS kitchen.

King also believes in local sourcing when possible. As an example, the ground beef in the spaghetti sauce was bought locally, and a Brookfield orchard provides the tasty apples. The pizza is prepared by a local pizza shop under a contract with the district, and it meets USDA standards.

Across the district, over 500 breakfasts are prepared each school day, and the benefits are huge. In Janice King’s words, “Meals at school, whether choosing breakfast and/or lunch, are a great option for the delicious and nutritious choices. In addition, the convenience of the availability of meals at school for busy families helps to streamline early morning routines to get students and working parents off to a great start!

Secondly, there is a tremendous savings to be had by families of students that qualify for free or reduced priced meals at school. Each free price child saves a family $957 during the course of the school year and each reduced price child saves $831. These values are paid by the USDA to Auburn Public Schools on the child’s behalf when students eat breakfast and lunch at school. Reduced price meals are $.30 for breakfast and $.40 for lunch.

Photo: John Anderson

Photo: John Anderson

If you feel you might qualify and have not already completed an application, please complete the application and return it to the Auburn Food Service Office at 5 West Street here in Auburn. Your application will be promptly reviewed and we will contact you with the determination of whether you qualify.”

USDA Free and Reduced Price Meals Application

Bitly url: For the USDA Meals Application on Auburn Food Services district page

By the way, the spaghetti was excellent as was the meat sauce, and the salad was fine as well. I also sampled a slice of blueberry bread that was outstanding. This is so much better than the bowl of soup I got in second grade. The Food Service Department has made lunch a nutritious and welcomed surprise. Great Job!