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Fresh ideas: New R-6 food service garnering good reviews

Posted Date: 01/22/2021

Fresh ideas: New R-6 food service garnering good reviews

Sikeston R-6 School District is only three weeks in to a new food service provider, but so far, the reviews are positive.

“It tastes like real food,” said Sikeston High School senior Lontas McClinton as he went through the lunch line on Thursday. “The food has more flavor.”

McClinton said he often chooses the pizza or nachos for his lunch.

Freshly cooked pizza sits in a warmer just before the lunch bell rings Thursday at Sikeston High School.

Leonna Heuring/Standard Democrat

SHS senior Eddie Foster said food is “way better” than before the new semester began earlier this month.

“It’s fresh and not hard,” Foster said of the food. “We have more variety of toppings and dressings for salads. The pizza is like something you would order at a restaurant. It’s really good.”

SHS junior Raghad Alkilani agreed.

Sikeston High School students wait in line for nachos during lunch Thursday at Sikeston High School.

Leonna Heuring/Standard Democrat

“The quality of food is better,” she said. “It’s fresh.”

Alkilani said she likes the salad bar and the options it provides.

Before the new semester started Alkilani said, the salads were prepackage and one choice offered.

Now during lunches at the high school, lettuce is placed in a to-go container in front of the students, who can choose if they want a half- or full-size serving. Then they can choose from several toppings including chopped ham and turkey, pepperoni slices, bacon, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cheese, and a variety of dressings including a homemade ranch option.

The faculty and staff also seem to approve of the new food service provider.

“We have more students and faculty eating the school lunches this semester,” said SHS Assistant Principal/Academic Leader Tiffany Morgan. “The variety offered each day is amazing. You can always count on a fresh salad and a homemade style of lunches. We have had choices such as roast and potatoes, meatloaf, taco salads, and all of them have been amazing.”

Following complaints about school food by students and parents at the beginning of the school year in August and the cancelation of the district’s contract with food service provider SFE in September, the R-6 district hired a new food service provider, Fresh Ideas Food Service Management, in December.

SFE continued to provide meals for Sikeston R-6 through the end of the semester. However, Fresh Ideas began transitioning its team to the district in December, providing the first meals to students and staff when the new semester started on Jan. 5.

“Fresh Ideas is a Missouri-based, privately held company headquartered in Columbia, which was one factor in the decision to choose them,” said R-6 Director of Business Services Cheryl Essner.

Essner said Fresh Ideas also provides an executive chef (Smith) dedicated to the district (not shared with other schools) and commits to 60% scratch cooking with plans to increase that to 70% over time.

The food service transition began in December with Fresh Ideas’ opening team of about 40 of its employees from all over the state and the nation coming to Sikeston at different times to help with the food service opening in the district, according to Fresh Ideas Regional Director of Operations Shannon Fife.

“The first thing the crew did was clean the kitchens from top to bottom,” she said.

Sanitation is a major priority of Fresh Ideas, Fife said.

“We do not fear our county health inspector at all,” she said. “Our standard is above or beyond his or her mark.”

Marlon Smith, R-6’s district executive chef and general manager for Fresh Ideas, said the transition has been smooth, and things are going well in the R-6 district.

“We’ve been getting the staff acclimated and trained to fresh-cooking standards,” Smith said.

Fife said plans are in place to increase student participation and feed more children in the district.

For example, plans are underway to provide an after school meal for all students.

“This is a state program to provide a free meal specific for kids who involved in after school programs,” Fife said. “… During COVID times, that has been expanded to any child. This means an after school meal to take home will be free to all students across the district.”

The goal is to implement the after school meal program this spring, Fife said.

“That’s huge for our area,” Fife said. “If we can provide a breakfast, lunch, snack and after school meal, then we’re meeting that need of food sustainability in a lot of our homes in our communities.”

There are food sustainability issues in communities all across the nation, and Sikeston is no exception, Fife said.

“Recognizing the fact that if kids aren’t clean or meeting the sanitation level at home or if their bellies aren’t full, how do you think they’ll be able to come to school and learn?” Fife said. “They’re not going to be focused. Kids can’t concentrate on learning their math problems because their bellies are growling or they’re thinking about when they’re going to eat next.

She continued: “Providing food for students in our community is critical. That is what I am passionate about – making sure that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do on our end to ensure that other children are getting fed on a daily basis, regardless of what’s going on at home.”

Other plans include establishing a food committee of third and fourth grade students to discuss the menu and offer suggestions. These students are encouraged to be an advocate for their classmates, Essner said.

Fresh Ideas will also seek menu input from grades 5-12 as well and have a student survey; it will finalize plans for a barbecue club in spring 2021 and launch the program in fall 2021.

Essner said another aspect of Fresh Ideas trying different recipes and learning students’ likes. For example, basked fish was on the menu one day recently for elementary students, and food service learned quickly, it wasn’t a popular choice with the students, she said.

“We believe fresh nutritious food is important to fuel the minds and bodies of our students and set them up for academic success,” Fife said.

Parent, student and staff feedback is important to Fresh ideas, Fife said.

“We love the feedback — good, bad or otherwise,” Fife said. “It’s always fun to get the good. It’s not very fun to get the bad news, but I can’t make the bad news good news until I know about the bad news, so I encourage the feedback.”

Fife encouraged anyone with questions or comments to reach out to herself or Smith.

“We’re really excited about getting the feedback because it’s telling us the parents or kids are excited enough to let us know and also because I want to make sure these kids are getting the best quality food they can, so that’s important.”