Home Grown Springfield vows to update menu after parents, students express frustration over food choices

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SPRINGFIELD – When Toya Smith posted on Facebook a photo of a school lunch with meatballs covered in some sort of overcooked sauce, hundreds of people started sharing the post and commenting with photos of the options. meals for their children in public schools in Springfield.

“My son sent me the picture and I was upset because it’s not the first time he’s shown me a meal like this too, expressing that most of the time he doesn’t take the little one- lunch or lunch that comes with the other kids in his class. They refuse to eat the food, ”Smith said.

She said her son, a sixth-grader, sent her more photos of dishes that didn’t look well done or appetizing.

“I was outraged not only for my child, but also for the other children who spend the day in school, who are hungry and lacking the nutrients they need to be able to spend their whole day in school and be successful. “.

Springfield Public Schools has a contract with Home Grown Springfield – operated by Sodexo, the district food service provider. The Cadwell Drive center prepares and provides meals daily to more than 25,000 Springfield students.

“We remain in constant communication with Home Grown Springfield and are confident that they prepare completely safe meals with an emphasis on nutrition,” said Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick. “We appreciate their ongoing efforts to continually improve the look and taste of meals, based on feedback. “

The company said it was aware of the photos and parents’ concerns and had removed this item from the menu.

“We continually seek student feedback and try to prepare the best meals possible, but we are limited in our current service model,” said Abby Getman Skillicorn, student engagement manager for Springfield Public Schools.

Getman Skillicorn said the city’s health department is requiring Home Grown Springfield to serve individually packaged meals, as opposed to the traditional cafeteria options they would normally offer.

“We are aware of some of the challenges we need to work with to keep everyone safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” she said.

Lydia Rodriguez, director of marketing and communications for Home Grown Springfield, said the company hears the concerns of parents and students and has their health in mind when offering meal options.

“Our team cares about the safety, satisfaction and well-being of the students first and foremost, so right now, with what we’ve seen and the feedback we’ve received, we’re prioritizing menu options that hold up well in this current service model until we have the eventual return to the cafeteria, ”said Rodriguez. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that students not only receive healthy and nutritious meals, but also meals that they will enjoy and be happy to receive every day.”

Damary Carmenatty said her child was far from happy eating the current meal options. He was recently sent a photo of what looked like a raw chicken patty. She posted the image on Facebook and received comments from other parents who said their kids were going through the same thing.

“Our children go to school seven to eight hours a day without eating because they refuse to eat. All they will offer if they don’t want to eat is wheat bread with peanut butter and expect our children to survive on it all day, ”she said.

Carmenatty said her children would come home hungry and immediately rummage in the refrigerator for food.

“I do my best to make sure their dinner is already ready by the time they get home,” she said.

As for sending them to school with homemade lunches, that’s an option her kids and their friends are too scared to take.

“Our children are bullied and made fun of if they bring lunch to school by other students and nothing is done. The teachers are not putting an end to it, ”she said. “They prefer to starve all day until they get home before eating the food they are served or making fun of.”

Getman Skillicorn clarified that while the pink chicken patties aren’t really undercooked – it’s a discoloration issue Chicken Tyson is aware of – students should still feel comfortable asking for another meal option. .

“We serve Tyson’s fully cooked, breaded, golden crispy patties for meal service in our schools. The kitchen staff receives fully cooked patties and reheats them to the correct temperature according to the health advice. Discoloration is something that occurs naturally with rare instances of the Tyson product which includes whole muscle dark meat and something that Tyson is aware of, ”she said. “Anyway, a pink chicken patty is not acceptable and if we had been informed of the problem by the student or the teacher during this lunch service, we could have provided them with another meal of their choice.”

Springfield – A Springfield student sent this photo of a midday meal provided by Home Grown Springfield to a school in Springfield. The chicken patty appears raw although officials said it was brown meat discoloration. Parents and students have expressed frustration with the meal choices offered for breakfast and lunch.

Rodriguez and Getman Skillicorn said there are several alternative meal options if a student doesn’t want the meal they are initially receiving. Options include another hot meal, a deli sandwich or a SunButter (peanut butter alternative) and a jelly sandwich for elementary schools. Middle and high school students can also choose a hamburger, cheeseburger or chicken patty.

She said normally they would offer a pizza station, a hot appetizer station, a nacho bar or a pasta bar.

“We share the frustration that students and families experience with the limited choices we are able to provide when it comes to classroom service,” Getman Skillicorn. “Some parents tell us what they are doing in Holyoke or Chicopee and we are happy that these communities serve in cafeterias. I would also say their case numbers are different from Springfield Public Schools and they are different sizes. Holyoke is 5,000 students, we are 25,000 students. We work within the parameters set for us.

Haishaleen Ramos is a tenth year in the district. She said the city needs to seriously consider the impact of the requirement to serve prepackaged food to students.

“Can we have fresh cut salads and different options for our kids? Can we hire more cooks? Can we maybe bring back the snack bars where the kids can buy other food options? ” she said. “There are so many children that sometimes the only food they depend on is a school lunch. Where to draw the line? How do we fix this? “

Rodriguez said Home Grown Springfield strives to improve the dining experience for all students. She said comments can be left on the Home Grown Springfield or Springfield Public Schools social media pages as well as over the phone.

Families can call 413-787-7111 between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. weekdays to speak directly with a member of the Home Grown Springfield staff.

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