School starts Sept. 3 and students might notice some changes in the cafeteria. The elementary school kitchens will be up and running and the high school will be serving up homemade pizzas.
“We’re shifting some of the preparing of the food back to the elementary schools,” said school food service director Lance Wells. “Up until this point everything was centrally produced at the Kennedy school and then panned up, loaded into warmers, and then hauled out to the schools and served.” In their evaluation of that process, looking at student participation numbers and Wells says, “We determined we could do an even better job if the things that were reasonably heatable in ovens in the school, if we did that.” This method also opens up the opportunity to provide new foods that weren’t offered before because they don’t do well in warmers.
McKinley also serves free breakfast for kindergarteners every morning Monday through Friday and free milk at snack time.
Not everything will be prepared at the elementary school, logistically there are some things the high school is better suited to make: Large volumes of hamburger, turkey gravy, sloppy joes, taco meat and other kettle-made foods will still be made at Kennedy and transported. All the things like french fries, potato smiles, chicken and waffles will be made at the elementary schools, “Things that you can imagine baking at home would be similar to the kinds of things that we would do,” says Wells.
There are some changes coming to the high school, too, with the addition of homemade pizza made fresh by hand. “Probably the biggest change that we’re making so far this year is that we have switched over to house-made pizza so we’re making our own pizza for Kennedy Secondary School,” says Wells. “We can control every bit of it, the nutrition of it, the variety of it, if a kid comes out of the blue and says, ‘Hey, it’s too bad we couldn’t have a whatever pizza,’ well, guess what? We could.”
All students received an application for educational benefits with their enrollment packets this summer. Wells wants to encourage parents to apply if there’s a chance they’d qualify because it doesn’t just help parents with the financial cost of school and meals at school, it also helps the district qualify for additional benefits from the state. “If you qualify and you’re not filling this out, it actually hurts the district in a way because we lose out on opportunities that we could do even more for the kids,” Wells says. “It’s so much more than just meals.”
The application is completely confidential. Parents can use the physical form to mail it in, or go online and fill it in at the Fergus Falls Public Schools website (fergusotters.org). Students who were enrolled last year have 30 days to re-enroll, but all other families can apply whenever they need to and the benefits last for the whole school year. If something unexpected happens like a layoff, business closure, a drop in income or an accident, educational benefits can help alleviate some of the financial burden. “If things are just not going your way right now, there’s a program for that and we’re here to help,” says Wells.