McKeesport Area school officials refute bad-food claims
McKeesport Area school directors said having lunch with students at the high school while addressing their food concerns was a satisfying experience.
“My experience was very positive,” board president Patricia Maksin said. “I had a good lunch. We stood in with the kids. They were wonderful. They were very polite.”
Maksin and school directors Trisha Gadson and Terri Kisan ate at Monday's final lunch period.
“It gave me a good chance to talk to the students in line about their likes and dislikes,” Kisan said.
Other district officials ate with students on different days in response to a PowerPoint presentation by sophomores Kyle Styche and Keshon Ball at last week's school board meeting that expressed dissatisfaction with long lines and lack of nutritional options.
They showed pictures of menu selections and comments from students, one of whom said the Allegheny County Jail serves better food.
School directors said the presentation did not reflect what they heard on Monday.
“They were very patient,” Maksin said. “The lines were a little bit long, but they do have 40 minutes for lunch. Everybody was through the line and had a minimum of 20 minutes to eat their lunch. It was a good situation.”
“The long lunch time was, surprisingly, plenty of time,” Kisan said.
Kyle told the directors that processed foods served at the high school contain a lot of sugar and fat, which can cause health concerns. He cited research from the Centers for Disease Control, which concluded that nearly one in four U.S. teens are on the fast track to diabetes.
Keshon said the school is contributing to that by regularly serving pizza, burgers and chicken pattie.
Kisan said they are very popular among students.
“Everybody likes different things,” she said. “One likes greasy pizza, loves greasy pizza everyday. But I was so surprised by how well-behaved our students are when they are hungry, tired and in a long line waiting for their lunch.”
District food service director Tammi Davis of Nutrition Inc. said strict guidelines must be followed for food choices and portion sizes because of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
A typical meal includes at least three of five components: dairy, fruit, vegetable, protein and bread. At the cafeteria's grab-and-go station, five to six different salads, turkey and chicken wraps, vegetables, and canned and fresh fruits are served.
Kyle said salads and wraps usually have brown leaves and are not fresh.
School directors said that is not the case.
“The wrap was delicious. I searched inside for any brown lettuce, and it is really fresh lettuce,” Kisan said. “I would imagine it doesn't stay out there long. The juice was delicious. I drank my milk. I had fruit and I enjoyed my lunch.”
McKeesport Education Support Professional Association president Joe Whitney said Nutrition Inc. supplies the menu and foods, which are prepared and served by the cafeteria workers.
“I know they get their produce on a daily basis,” Whitney said. “They get the frozen beef, frozen chicken. They get orders constantly over there. For a lot of these kids that's the best meal they get all day. (Workers) are all highly trained at what they do and they do an excellent job of preparing the food daily. It's as fresh as can be for the way they do it.”
“The cafeteria was very well run,” said Maksin, “both food wise and the kids sitting out in the cafeteria enjoying their lunches.”
The potential improvements school directors said could be made had nothing to do with entrees or workers.
Kisan said she would like to see better organization of condiments and ranch dressing.
Maksin suggested using white boards to increase menu visibility so that students can make their food choices more quickly.
The directors said they appreciate Kyle and Keshon's courage to voice their opinions, but their lunch experience was not as awful as the presentation made it out to be.
“Oh, heavens no,” Maksin said. “It is individual taste. We're not your mother, nor are we the local restaurant where you get to pick and choose. We're feeding a large number of kids a healthy lunch that meets the federal (regulations) on, really, a shoe-string budget. We would love to be able to have wonderful catered meals, but that's not realistic.
“Our purpose is to make sure these kids are eating a nutritious meal that hopefully is going to be tasteful to the vast majority of kids. Let's face it, sometimes kids don't like what's good for them.”
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.