NEWARK, NJ - Following several complaints about school food by students and a few board members, the Newark Board of Education members tasted the cuisine on Saturday and gave it a passing grade.

The board approved food purchase at the reorganization meeting in April so there will be food in time for July when summer school starts. The purchase was modified to last only for July 1 through the end of August so board members could have a chance to taste the food.

Nutrition and Food Services prepared food for the board members at their retreat on Saturday at Science Park High School. The spread featured cold and hot meals that are currently offered to students and menu items that will be coming to the district for this upcoming school year.

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“The cornbread bowl was good with the chili inside, the fish sliders and the bread that they use is the same bread that they said they use at Panera Bread. That bread was awesome and those sandwiches were really good,” school board member Flohisha Hill said at the business meeting on Tuesday.

Students from the district who attended the tasting confirmed the food that was served was the same they see in the school cafeteria.  However, the quality was different. “They don’t think it's the actual food that they’re getting. It’s the preparation of the food,” Hill said. “I guess that’s where the retraining comes into play.”

The district food services are in the process of revamping their training to include how the staff is trained on procedures, policies, and expectations of the district and the departments. Training is expected to start within the next two weeks for cooks and food service workers Dr. Tonya McGill, executive director of Nutrition and Food Services said.

Food storage and preparation issues heavily contribute to students’ dissatisfaction with school lunch. Not every school benefits from a large cook staff like was presented on Saturday and a fully equipped kitchen like Science Park has. 

Inventory is ordered a week in advance. Out of 63 schools in the district, about 40 have a full kitchen. The food is cooked onsite and delivered to schools who do not have kitchen equipment to cook.

One student at the business meeting on Tuesday recommended board members do surprise visits to various schools to get a sense of the food students are really eating.

“The meal for you was very well prepared. For us, we don’t get the same preparation and quality,” David Daughety, a junior at Arts High School said. He said that sometimes his school runs out of food so students eat breakfast for lunch. He mentioned that there were times when food was expired.

Vendor contracts that were approved at the reorganization meeting were for summer and the first half of the 2019-2020 school year. As the process currently stands, the district would be sending a contract for the summer which means that they would have to repeat the contracting process again come September, School Business Administrator Valerie Wilson explained.

She proposed a request to rescind the contract that was awarded at the organization meeting and reinstitute the contract as a total year contract that would go from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, to cut down on paperwork and make the process more seamless.

The board will make a decision during the regular board meeting at Spencer Miller Community School at 6 p.m. on May 28.