Linden BOE renews contract with food services company

Pomptonian Food Service, which provides food to Linden Public Schools, offers a farm stand, above, that gives students the choice of fresh fruit and vegetables each day.

By Joshua Baker, Correspondent
LINDEN, NJ — On Wednesday, May 25, Linden Public Schools held its monthly Board of Education meeting, at which the board members unanimously approved the renewal of the district’s food services contract with Pomptonian Food Service in Fairfield for the 2022-2023 school year.

BOE member Samuel De La Cruz led the board’s contract renewal discussion, during which board members brought concerns and issues they had with the lunch program. They expressed their desire to improve the selection of food.

According to board members, a meeting had been held the previous night, May 24, at which Pomptonian provided samples of the food it serves and a four-person advisory board — comprising BOE members De La Cruz, Jennifer Flemming, President Carlos Rivas and Antoinette Pino — voiced their opinions on both May 24 and 25, and asked questions about the the food service, specifically regarding food quality, updating the menu, determining what foods students want, concerns about “pink” chicken, and vegetarian and vegan options. According to board members, Pomptonian said the pink chicken was due to bone marrow bleeding into meat, not undercooking. The board members also shared their thoughts and expectations for the upcoming school year with Pomptonian.

Pomptonian has been providing schools with meals for the past 60 years. Cedar Grove High School was the first school to hire Pomptonian, and the company is still serving CGHS to this day. Pomptonian serves more than 100 school districts throughout the state of New Jersey and currently has more than 2,000 employees, according to its website.

According to De La Cruz, a Pomptonian representative said to the board on May 24 that the company “is going to commit to bringing up whatever concerns we have and addressing the issues that we have with the lunches.”

Until the meeting on May 24, the board had never been offered the chance to sit in on lunch and sample the food. Pomptonian has been serving the Linden schools since 1988.

The Board of Education is attempting to set up another meeting, at which parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders can discuss food service.

De La Cruz said that Pomptonian told the board on May 24 that its staff members were going to “step up their game for September to start the school year off differently and bigger, and make sure we get what we lost, move forward and get better quality.”

To promote health and wellness, the food service company offers Linden schools Pomptonian Farm Stand. According to the company’s website, “The farm stand offers a seasonal variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. Students may self-select their fruits and vegetables daily to accompany their meal. Allowing students to self-select increases fruit and vegetable consumption.” For this program, Pomptonian won the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials Above and Beyond award.

Pomptonian also features a menu designation called Village Fresh. These meals are minimally processed and focus on organic ingredients. Calorie limits and high nutrition standards are a focus of Village Fresh meals, according to the company.

The BOE also discussed concerns regarding menu choices, such as ensuring that students have healthy options that they enjoy eating. According to the Pomptonian website, the company believes that variety encourages students to make healthy and wholesome choices. Recently, the company has offered various healthy choices, such as falafel, sushi and ancient-grain bowls.

Flemming asked if vegan options were available. The Pomptonian representative said the company offers plant-based chicken tenders, which add to the variety available.

The board also questioned the portion size provided by Pomptonian to students in the elementary, middle and high schools. The company’s representative said the company is “giving out more portions to the students.”

Board of Education members eventually concluded that if Pomptonian does not improve the food’s quality, appeal, and vegetarian and vegan options, then the district will turn to another company for food services. Nevertheless, board members expressed confidence that the four-person advisory board will work with Pomptonian to hold the company to a higher standard.

Photo Courtesy of Pomptonian Food Service