On Saturday, May 5, the Wentzville School District hosted a Food Expo at Liberty High School that featured nearly 40 vendors and free samples for students and their families.
The district announced in February that it would be opting out of the National School Lunch Program beginning in the 2018-19 school year, which will result in less restrictions and expanded menu options for students. The Food Expo was held to introduce possible menu items to families so they could sample and weigh in on what foods they would like to see incorporated into next year’s school breakfast and lunch menus.
“We are very excited about the upcoming school year and the variety of vendor options we’ll have to choose from and serve to our students,” shared Director of Child Nutrition Susan Raster. “It is important to us, and to the success of our new program, to have student input and buy-in with regard to the new menu options.”
More than 1,500 people attended the four-hour event and the district captured more than 350 survey responses to rate the food items attendees liked best. “The Asian and Mexican cuisine were huge hits with our guests, as well as a number of the chicken and pizza offerings,” said Assistant Director of Child Nutrition Gwen Doyle. “The event surpassed all of our expectations. We are thrilled that so many people came out to sample the food and weigh in on possible menu items. Parents left happy and grateful that they can finally stop making lunches and students are excited and can’t wait for next year.”
The District is making the move away from the National School Lunch Program in an attempt to increase the number of students purchasing school lunches. Despite the district’s continued enrollment growth, fewer and fewer students are purchasing meals at school and an increasing amount of food is going to waste because students are forced to take food items they may not want as a result of the program’s current mandates. Costly restrictions have been added each year stemming from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 and the 2014 Smart Snacks in School standards, which have negatively impacted ala carte sales as well. From the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 school year, the District’s enrollment was up 650 students, yet the number of school lunches served was down by more than 25,000 and ala carte sales were down over $95,000 during that same period.
Raster shared that she is always mindful of the correlation between eating healthy and a child’s potential for success in the classroom. “But the meals are only nutritious if kids eat them. We are excited to expand the options of menu items we can serve while providing healthy, appetizing meals at a reasonable cost and I’m confident we will increase student participation in the process.” The price of a school meal will not change for 2018-19; they range from $1.75 for breakfast (K-12) to$2.80 for lunch in the elementary schools and $2.90 for lunch in the middle and high schools.