By James Niedzinski
---- — MANCHESTER — Budget discussions and contract negotiates aside, one tasty aspect of public schools has been forever changing — the food.
Following up on recent legislation about school lunches, school districts throughout the state are being offered a survey to see how students react to their lunch menus.
The surveys are being issued by the John C. Stalker Institute out of Framingham State University.
The outcome of the survey will be a four week cycling menu that meets new National School Lunch Program standards — the added bonus being students will enjoy the food being served, Ann Johnson, a Food and Nutrition instructor at Framingham State University wrote in an email to the Times.
She added that the state response has been fantastic, but the distribution list for the survey is still being finalized.
Students in Manchester and Essex received the survey last week.
Sheila Parisien, food service director for the district, said the survey was an expected step in the right direction.
“With new regulations, new menus with healthy, attractive and affordable options are always expected,” she said. “It makes sense to go to the source, the children.”
She said about 700 students, or 50 percent of the students in the district, purchase and eat a school lunch daily.
Parisien said school officials are doing there part to get a response from students, mentioning it in health classes and email lists.
Manchester Essex schools have recently had taste tests, and recipe contests to find out what students want to eat.
Rockport school officials are also looking to distribute the survey and get noteworthy feedback from students.
Martha-Jo Fleming recently returned as Rockport’s director of food services after serving similar positions in Gloucester, Beverly and other municipalities.
“Student participation has skyrocketed this year,” she said.
Fleming said the salad bar was reinstated at the high school since her return, as well as adding one to the middle school.
More than 200 students buy and eat lunch within Rockport now, up from about 80 students last year, Fleming said.
Constructing a healthy menu is just one hurdle, however; nobody can force children to eat healthy.
Fleming said by making food from scratch and training staff members in new cooking methods, more cost effective, healthy meals can be made.
Students seem to agree, Fleming said she receives input and feedback through word of mouth.
“The turkey dinner has proven to be a favorite,” she said. “I’ve received one complaint about the size of a protein portion on one dish, but overall kids are happy.”
The institute and survey project are funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The John C. Stalker institute will be working with the National Food Service Managment Institute at the University of Mississippi regarding the project.
Parisien added she expects more meetings with institute officials and results from the survey next week.
For more information on the National School Lunch Program, visit fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at email@example.com.