A behind-the-scenes look at the Fern lunch program in transition

TDSB Nutrition Services has been serving hot lunches to Fern students and Ferncliff participants for a month now. The Food Committee has heard from students, parents, teachers, lunch monitors and others and has been closely working with district manager Shelley and head cook Sally on revising and improving the lunch program. Tracy from the Food Committee has been frequenting the cafeteria to monitor, trouble-shoot and get feedback, and has been coordinating communications between TDSB, Fern, and lunch participants and their families.

One of the comments we’ve been hearing is that “Maggie’s food was better,” however some of the students telling us this haven’t even tried the new lunches! Tracy and some lunch monitors have observed lunch participants pick up their food and head directly to the garbage. As Dr. Seuss suggests in Green Eggs and Ham, “You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may….” Tracy stopped a student from immediately throwing out her lunch and asked her to try it first. Surprise – she came back with an empty plate. “Say! I do so like ….”

In other instances lunch participants see a plate come out of the kitchen, don’t like the look of it so won’t even pick the lunch up and taste it. How can students say they don’t like the food if they haven’t tasted it? One classroom had all the lunch participants refusing to try the food because once a couple of the students said it wasn’t good, the rest agreed without giving the lunch a try. Peer pressure often comes into play so when one student says or does something negative, others tend to follow suit. We want more students to experience their own Dr. Seuss moment so we need to persuade them to try, and continue to try, the lunches.

We also need to encourage our children and their classmates to accept change and give the new lunch menu a chance. (The menu is posted on Fern’s website and a sign also features the lunch of the day in the cafeteria.) Especially for children who grew up on Maggie’s food, TDSB’s lunches are far different from hers, so we need them to try, taste and open up their minds and palates to new flavours. Parents, teachers, lunch monitors and even students need to model healthy eating so that Fern’s students have the fuel they need to get through the rest of the day.

From surveying most of the lunch participants in the cafeteria, Tracy has concluded about 75% give the food a thumbs up, 15% an okay and the rest a thumbs down. This indicates that there are many students who have embraced the new menu and there are even new students, who have never been in the lunch program before, signed up for February to try it out.

The Food Committee takes all the concerns and feedback seriously and we are working with TDSB to improve the program and resolve issues as they arise. To accurately assess the lunch menu, TDSB Nutrition Services won't know what the students like until they serve each meal a few times. The team is receptive to both positive and negative feedback and already they've decided to revise some dishes, change portion sizes and have more fruit available in the kitchen.

As before, the lunch program meets Ontario’s nutrition standards for schools. TDSB is mandated to follow the provincial nutrition policy PPM 150 and adhere to the Nutrition Standards developed by City of Toronto Board of Health. The kitchen and menus are inspected by Toronto Public Health on a regular basis.

Other lunch news is that the food is hot when students pick up their plates (the online lunch survey results indicated this was an issue for many participants) and there appears to be less food waste. Fern is scheduled to implement the green bin program this year so hopefully we will soon be diverting all food waste from the garbage.

Without a doubt, students and the Fern community are missing Maggie, who has been a kitchen icon for more than 30 years. She is a tough act to follow, however the TDSB team and the Food Committee are working hard to continue running a successful hot lunch program.


Fern Food Committee

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