Schools struggle to provide lunches as district changes plan

Recent district changes to school lunches have left schools without food for students

Sam Rainville, Staff Reporter
Originally published November 27. 2019


Zane Golden-ZagorskiLunch employee Doug Stowell shares his opinions  in the new lunches

Zane Golden-Zagorski

Lunch employee Doug Stowell shares his opinions in the new lunches

One of Aaron Smith’s first decisions as the new director of the Seattle Public Schools Nutrition Services Department was to switch from pre-packaged meals to lunches made daily in-house. However, this has created a variety of problems for schools throughout the district. 

The change was made because of Smith’s desire to return to lunches made daily and from scratch.

Cafeteria employee Doug Stowell explained that these issues were caused in part by the district’s changes.

“It’s my impression that we’re switching distributors a fair amount,” Stowell said. “There’s some miscommunication going on there, but also there was some pretty serious staff turnover.”

According to Stowell, the switch in distributors to fund Smith’s goal of in-house cooking hasn’t been going as smoothly as planned because of issues with contracts.

“He’s been talking grand dreams about returning to scratch cooking, having more food prepared on site instead of at the central kitchen and reformed here, which I think is great,” Stowell said. “But there are definitely some bumps on the roads. He’s going to a lot of new distributors and those contracts aren’t lining up.”

A weekly update to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors from Superintendent Denise Juneau elaborated on this issue.

“One of the district’s major food suppliers underwent a major merger over the summer, which impacted ordering procedures [product numbers, order dates, stocking} and the delivery of ordered products,” Juneau said in the report. 

While the return to lunches prepared on-site could potentially be positive for students, the process of making this transition has left some schools behind. 

“We’re one of the bigger schools with a bigger kitchen that had refrigerators and freezers to hold lots of stuff so we didn’t run out of things,” Stowell said. “Some of the schools don’t have that, so if they don’t get what they need, they’re in big trouble.”

However, another update from Juneau claimed that the issue with distribution was from problems starting at the district. 

“The district started the 2019-20 school year with lower than normal inventory due to construction on the Central Kitchen freezer over the summer, which required Nutrition Services to draw down frozen products,” Juneau said in the report. “Nutrition Services has worked with the vendor to restock the inventory, including items that will be implemented on the new menu.”  

As far as other schools go, the district claims that their issues have been minor, and that most of them have already been managed. In her reports, Juneau mentions issues at Beacon Hill and Olympic Hills, where both schools shared similar distribution issues. 

“The kitchen manager noted that distribution issues had lead to menu substitutions at the start of school but confirmed that the kitchen is well stocked and that all orders have been fulfilled during the past two weeks,” Juneau said in the report. 

According to Stowell, we did not experience as many issues as other schools in the district

“There were a couple of lean weeks at the beginning of the year,” Stowell said. “We were borrowing hamburger buns from other schools and pulling them out of freezers, so that was less than great, but there’s not much that we need that we haven’t gotten by now.” 

Overall, Stowell has mixed feelings on Smith’s plans for school lunches. 

“As far as the big picture, you know, returning to scratch cooking, returning to fully staffed kitchens, that’s a long ways off,” Stowell said. “I love that he’s headed in that direction but I think we’ll have to see how successful that is.”