What's for lunch? Local school board debates quality, taste of school food

Published: Mar. 15, 2017 at 9:36 PM CDT
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During Tuesday's school board meeting, board members approved Chartwells as the most qualified candidate to serve Bay County students.

Chartwells is currently in year four of a five-year contract with the district. But two board members spoke up about the food on Tuesday, saying they felt compelled to share the apparent dissatisfaction from parents and students.

"I've not heard one single parent say to me, 'I am sure glad y'all chose Chartwells, the food is so much better,'" Board Member Joe Wayne Walker said.

"Let's put kids first, and find another source for our food," Board Member Jerry Register said.

But other school leaders, like the Superintendent, defended Chartwells, saying there's a reason the food today doesn't taste the way it used to.

When it comes to school lunch, it seems like not much has changed.

"It just doesn't look appealing or it just doesn't smell appealing," Skylar, a high school student at Mosley, said.

But according to the people who make the food - so much has changed.

"It's totally different," Julio Narvaez, the Direct Manager for Chartwells Food Service, said.

He said now school food service has to follow strict federal nutritional guidelines, which limits what you'll find in the lunch line.

Narvaez said when Chartwells took over food service in 2012, the federal government began tackling salt and calories.

For example, entrees have to be 350 calories or less and contain 480 mg of sodium or less.

"I mean they just think, this tastes a little bit you know, not as seasoned as well," Narvaez said. "It's not because we forgot the salt, it's that we're not allowed to use it."

While the nachos are a favorite among students, reaction is mixed.

"Sometimes they're like cold and then sometimes they're like overcooked or something or not cooked all the way," said a student at Jinks Middle School.

"I've been bringing my lunch since elementary school," Alona, a freshman at Mosley High School, said.

The bread and pasta are whole wheat and whole grain. Many items are low fat and low sodium, which Narvaez said may be different from what kids eat at home.

"I eat fried chicken," said a middle school student, while several others around her agreed.

Narvaez said he often gets positive feedback from students but does feel the strain of the federal guidelines.

"In my opinion, I think there should be some changes made to especially with the sodium," he said. "Definitely I don't think it is what the general public will like but at this point, it is what it is."

Earlier this month a national nutrition lobbying group recommended rolling back some of the nutrition restrictions.

Meanwhile, Narvaez encourages parents and guardians to come and share a meal with their child and share their feedback.