UNION, NJ — The school district has requested bids from food service providers that could change its meal service after recent surveys showed that both parents and students were dissatisfied with the district’s current offerings.
According to the request for proposals put out by the district late last month, all proposals from providers must be submitted by Thursday, April 25. The proposals will then be reviewed and the school board will vote on a new contract.
Gregory Brennan, the district’s business administrator, did not return multiple requests for comment regarding the district’s food provider, so it is unclear when the board will conduct that vote.
Aramark, the district’s current food provider, has had the contract for almost half a century and, according to survey results from both the provider and the district, many students are not satisfied with the quality of food.
The Aramark questionnaire surveyed parents in the fall. Asked “Why doesn’t your child eat school lunch?” 59 percent of parents answered that the food doesn’t taste good, with 56 percent also answering that their children said they do not like the food.
Parents had the ability to choose more than one response.
Among the responses were 34 percent of parents who said they don’t believe school meals make their children healthier and 30 percent who didn’t agree that school meals set an example for healthy eating.
Almost 150 students out of more than 650 surveyed by the district this year said one of the reasons that they don’t eat the school-provided lunch is because they simply “don’t like it. ” Another 130 answereed that they prefer to bring their own lunch.
Only 10 students said that all meals provided by Aramark tasted good, with a majority answering that only some of them taste good. A favorite school lunch among students was a “cold sandwich.”
Based on the Aramark survey results, the company has an opportunity to improve its meal options and submit a proposal to the district.
Residents and parents have expressed dissatisfaction with the food service in the past, specifically during the public comment portion of the Nov. 20 meeting.
Suehay Monge, wife of former school board member Jeff Monge, read an email to the board sent to her by a concerned parent with two daughters in district schools.
“The reason why my kids don’t partake in the food provided by the school is because they find it subpar,” Suehay Monge read from the email. “In their particular words, the chicken patties taste horrible, look like fake chicken and are pink.”
The parent’s email also stated that her children found the turkey, served around Thanksgiving, as having a rubbery texture, the gravy was watery and flavorless, and that the pizza tastes like ketchup and cheese.
Cathy Shaw, an elementary school employee for more than 30 years, testified at the November meeting that she has seen children go all day without eating because they find the food served in school intolerable.
“I’ve seen children get their lunch, walk to their seat, sit down, look at it and throw the whole thing out,” she said. “And to these little kids, food is an important thing. It’s important to you, it’s important to me and it’s important to them.”