Food Services Director John Morgan presented the School Committee last night with a timeline for healthier lunches.
After last month's, committee members voiced concerns about the quality of the food and the small percentage of students who actually buy lunch.
The new federal nutrition standards will go into effect on Aug. 1.
Morgan told the committee the schools have already changed to whole-wheat pizza, whole wheat cookies, cakes and dinner rolls. The cafeteria is now offering more fresh fruits and vegetables, he said.
"In the elementary schools, we recently added fresh salad options," he said. "The meals are nutritionally balanced but have a processed and unappetizing tray method."
Morgan said the schools currently partner with Preferred Meals for elementary school lunches, but will meet with a competitor to explore other options.
An entirely new elementary program will be finalized for next school year, Morgan said. A PDF of the entire timeline can be viewed in to the right.
Morgan also said the district is looking into a new point of sales computer system for purchasing food.
"It would be a big benefit, students would use a pin ID number, parents can track lunch spending and it reduces labor costs and involves less cash handling," Morgan said. "It increases serving line speed and (allows for) more time for kids to eat."
Morgan said the system would also take away any stigma involved with free and reduced lunch."
"That's a big thing now with the tickets, some of the kids are embarrassed sometimes knowing they're giving a ticket instead of paying for a lunch," Moregan said. "That’s totally done away with with a (point of sales) system."
Committee Chairwoman Janet Askenburg expressed concern about the lack of participation in the school lunch program. Chelmsford's daily participation is about 30 percent, she said, compared to like-districts with numbers at about 60 percent.
"The way the economy is, it is going to be hard to reach that (level) even at high school," Morgan said. "There's so many kids still brown bagging, I think it’s a monetary issue. I think we put out some great food, I still think the economy is definitely affecting lunch counts in our schools."
Askenburg wondered if the issue was more of one dealing with the quality of the food.
"I think that's a high priority," she said. "I'd like to see the teachers and staff eating the lunches ... I'm really not interested in us looking at serving a different kind of lunch. Just in looking at the menu provided for this month, if I was a teacher I’d go in there and eat a salad or soup. I’d hate for a student to eat a salad and see a teacher eating a meatloaf or something more adult ... I’d like to see consistency there. Getting to that benchmark that should be a goal of ours that’s something we should track."
School Committee member Nick DeSilvio suggested doing a parent survey on the food program a few times per year.
Askenburg said the schools might be the one healthy meal students get per day.
"I don't want it to be that they come to school to get the junk food, they come to school to get the good food," she said. " ... The healthy food helps them perform better in school and that’s our ultimate goal."
The School Committee will meet monthly with Morgan to stay updated on the issue.