As students get ready for school, workers with the Albany County School District No. 1 food services are busy making hundreds of lunches to be distributed around Laramie.
Once the lunches are cooked, they are placed into heating and cooling storage containers based on the foods and brought to their assigned schools.
“We start off with Spring Creek, Beitel, Indian Paintbrush, (University of Wyoming Lab School), Slade, Montessori and Snowy Range Academy,” ACSD No. 1 food services general manager Jill Dunn said. “Linford has a standalone kitchen, so they have all the facilities they need to do their cooking there and the middle school and high school have their own kitchens as well.”
Food services makes three meal options each day to provide students with variety and to meet specific dietary needs, she said.
“There is always a choice,” Dunn said. “We always try to throw in a vegetarian item as well and if there is none on the menu then cashiers always have a backup yogurt or something like that to give to the kids.”
She said an average lunch costs about $2.50 to make, which is more expensive than what other school districts such as in Chicago would pay to make their lunches because it is easier to transport food and items can be ordered in bulk more effectively.
“School lunch programs are not money makers,” Dunn said. “We are in more of a remote location so our prices are going to be a little higher, just because you have to pay for the transportation.”
To decide what the school district is going to serve students, food service representatives gather to discuss what items are selling well for them and what meals they predict would become more common, she said.
“Once a year, we basically sit down and go over the new favorites, what (people) see coming out that is popular for kids,” Dunn said. “That is how we get our base menu. Then we always put on a few new things at the high school and middle school.”
She said food service keeps track of several aspects of the school lunches such as what items are being sold more and how much food is being wasted at schools. How well certain lunch items sell depends on who is eating them, so there isn’t a way to accurately predict how many meals have to be made.
“We look and see what is popular and we always put a new item on a couple of times just to see what the reaction is,” Dunn said. “The first time might not be so good because the kids aren’t used to it, but if it bombs the second time we’ll take it off.”
Significant work goes into make sure each lunch meets U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. Lunches that are served that meet standards such as having a certain amount of fruit, vegetables and grains, qualifies as a federal reimbursement lunch, providing the school district with funding, Dunn said.
“Everything has to meet our USDA requirements,” she said. “We have a dietitian who is on staff who then takes our ideas and … makes sure that they all come across as nutrient compliment, grade compliant and that we have enough vegetables in there to make everything complied across the board.”
Dunn said to help make sure students are getting lunches that meet nutrition standards, cashiers are tasked to make sure students have everything they need to fulfill the government standards.
“When a student goes through the line, the cashier has to make sure that these things are on their tray to be counted as a reimbursable meal,” she said. “You may ask me ‘What if a student doesn’t like fruit?’ Well they have a couple of options. They could either purchase it without fruit — and therefore it is not a reimbursable meal — or they can take the juice and the fruit and unfortunately give it away to somebody else or throw it away.”