New vendor to focus on serving 'fresh, local food' in Ledyard schools
Ledyard — At Ledyard Public Schools, the first day of school came with a new food service vendor that promises to provide higher quality meals at the same price.
The district over the summer chose Chartwells, a national food service group that carries the motto "eat. learn. live.," to replace Whitsons Culinary Group, which provided meals for the past five school years.
Chartwells was chosen out of the four companies that provided proposals because it scored the best on a rubric, district Business Manager Jason Lathrop said.
"Chartwells is trying to maintain the quality of the food throughout the distribution process," Lathrop said, explaining that meals are made in the high school, then sent to the other schools.
One of the ways the company is doing that is by implementing a new packaging system at the high school, Chartwells District Manager Michael Edgar said.
In the process, production team members divvy up fresh, hot, made-from-scratch meals every morning and ship them out in paper, rather than plastic, containers.
Edgar said another perk is that Ledyard Public Schools now has a dedicated chef, Nizam Saad, as opposed to a visiting one.
"Every day, it's a focus on fresh, local food and improving the student experience," Edgar said.
It's something some parents seem to have noticed already.
"The meals themselves seem to be a little bit more thoughtful," said Doreen Szollosi, school board member and mother of an 8-year-old.
Szollosi, too, said she is impressed with ledyard.nutrislice.com, where parents and students can mouse over menu options for every day of the school year and learn about their nutritional makeup before making any choices.
The meals, priced at $2.60 for those who don't qualify for free or reduced lunch, did not increase in price from last year.
Szollosi called them "an inexpensive way to also save time."
"When I'm rushing around in the morning, sometimes I have no time to make a healthy lunch," she said. "If (the students) can get that at school with milk, too, for under $3, it's a pretty good buy."
She said her son Tony — a third-grade student at Gallup Hill School whom she called "a man of not many words" — said his meal of fresh fruit, celery, carrots, breadsticks and sunbutter, a peanut butter-like dipping spread, was "very tasty."
At the high school, Principal Amanda Fagan said there wasn't necessarily a noticeable change, but that students seemed to be enjoying their meals.
Fagan, who had a chance to taste Chartwells-catered food during back-to-school and new teacher luncheons, called what she had "delicious."
Anne Hogsten, principal at Juliet W. Long School and member of the committee that chose Chartwells, said she liked Chartwells' commitment to using local food when possible.
Edgar said Chartwells already uses Hartford-based produce distributor FreshPoint to learn what produce is in season and if it's available locally, giving preference to growers within 150 miles.
Next, he said, the company wants to look into enlisting Ledyard and other area farms, too.
In Connecticut, Chartwells already services districts in Sterling, Plainfield, Old Lyme and East Lyme as well as Norwich Free Academy.
Both Lathrop and Hogsten said they believe the new options Chartwells offers could result in an increase in school lunch participation across the board.
If that were to happen, Lathrop said, any additional revenue would be put back into the lunch program to maintain it and/or make it better.
Edgar encouraged students to take the dining questionnaire found at ledyard.nutrislice.com in the coming weeks and months.
"We don't have an equation for an automatically successful program," Edgar said. "I need to hear from parents, administrators, everybody as to what they want to see on the menus and how often they want to have it. These programs are most successful when we create an excellent dialog with the community."