an honest opinion about the food revolution from a different point of view.

Earlier this morning, I received a comment about my last post by a former consultant to school districts and contract companies. He is also a former employee of the USDA. I wanted to re-post his comment because I feel like he makes a very valid point. I think its important to look at and consider the school lunch issue from every aspect. The only way things can change is if we (collectively) come together to create a solution. Because I value what he has to say, I am hoping he responds to the questions/concerns I still have for him at the end of his comment. And just to be clear, they are directed at the issue…and not at him. Given the valuable knowledge he does have…I really don’t want to make him mad:)
Here’s what he wrote:
   
Adam Marvin said…

II used to consult to the school districts and the contract management companies and have worked with the USDA for 15 years prior to doing consulting. I am now semi-retire, but have a good knowledge of the industry.

I think your food revolution is going after the wrong target. These companies – Aramark, Sodexo and you name it develop and offer their menus based on the district requirements. They need to serve the USDA required meals under a certain cost to abide by the requirements of the district. Typically, this requires serving milk / juice, a serving of vegetables and or fruit, a serving of protein (meat) and a serving of grain for under $1.25. By the way, this $1.25 should cover the cost of food ingredients, preparation and serving. Of course, as you clearly outlined, it should include profits. You make it sound like these companies are making a killing by doing this. The reality is that their profit margins are between 0.5% and 1.5%.

Could they not serve berries, freshly squeezed grape fruit and salmon? Sure they can. The question is how much are you willing to pay more in your taxes to support the food service program of the district? Would you be willing to pay another $1-$2 per day for lunch? Better question is – what percentage of the parents would be willing or can afford an additional $1-$2 per day? Everyone blames their school food for the growing obesity problem and yet the Fast Food Industry is continuing to grow… thanks to the overwhelming demand by parents seeking convenience over health.

You’re advocating the food service should concentrate on the food aspect rather than marketing kids the benefits of healthy eating with glitzy cafes and websites. Yet, apparently you fail to understand the holistic approach that is required to change the behavior of children. Just because you serve berries at school does not mean the students will actually eat them. Don’t get me wrong – maybe your children will, because they have been brought up by a mom who has had tremendous upbringing skills and used to be an executive in the corporate world. But the reality is 99% of the kids do require a holistic approach. If you do not believe me – just check out what Mc Donald’s have done with the Happy Meals and the play grounds and kid friendly initiatives.

I actually checked out CoolCaf and have been impressed with what they have done to promote health and wellness through Fruit and Veggie Carts and other wellness related messaging and promotions. At the least, it is better than not doing anything. Children require multiple touch points and repetition. Even if 20% of the messaging sticks, it is better than nothing.

Now – let’s discuss the food revolution:
1) I realize blogging is the “fashionable” way of getting your message across and maybe even getting some tabloid, but have you communicated your concerns to the district and have a clear understanding of their requirements and constraints of the food service program?
2) Did you request / meet with the management of the Food Service program?
3) Maybe you can also contact your state representatives to make sure the USDA school lunch program is managed and funded properly?

Then please help me understand, Adam!

Yes, I am advocating that the food service concentrate on the food aspect. And, no, I do not fail to understand the holostic approach to changing behavior…for everyone in fact; kids, parents, school districts, contract companies, and consultants.  This is why the marketing aspect has become so frustrating.

I agree that school menus are created to meet district requirements. With that being said, school districts base their menus and requirements off that of the USDA.  I also realize that these schools do have budgets and obviously, they must stay within that budget. As mentioned in my previous posts, I do not blame my school district for any obesity problem. I also do not blame them for the way the food is made, since they in actuality don’t even make it. They reheat it, and do a fine job at that. I understand what they are up against financially and see the corner they are backed into. I feel sorry for them.  And honestly, our school doesn’t even have an obesity problem. On the other hand, too many kids in our district do have a “malnutrition” problem; indicated by higher than average absence rates (ie, weakend immune system), a prevalence in allergies, and with my son in particular, some pretty severe gastro-intestinal problems and headaches that disappear on the weekends and holiday breaks. 

Which brings me to the marketing. The fast food industry is, as you have mentioned,  growing. Processed foods are, like you said, what a majority of people turn to for covenience. I absolutely believe your remark on what McDonald’s has done with Happy Meals. Which is why I am so completly and utterly disturbed when Michael Pursell, the associate vice president for ARAMARK education, is quoted in Food Service Director magazine as saying:

“The sack lunches are kind of what McDonald’s has done with Happy Meals,”

Here is the whole article, if you want to read it.

He then goes on to talk about how it’s the “bag” that makes this option so special. Not becuse it’s changing the behavior of eating or the quality of food, but because it has a see-thru section, bright colors, ARAMARKS mascot, Ace, and nutrition facts printed on it.Since the nutrition facts are probably not relative to what they are eating that day (that would require a different bag everyday), I’m guessing they are the same ambiguous facts on the website, that still do not relate to what they are eating at school.

Yes, I agree, parents have a huge responsibility when it comes to modeling better eating habits. The largest one in fact. But, what happens when these kids grow up eating brighly colored sack lunches with nutrition-promoting messages, yet that still contain the same processed foods? I would assume they become the type of parents that say “We really should start eating healthier…” as they pull the family car  into a McDonald’s drive-thru. Just like the ones we are talking about today.

Because you and I agree they are probably not getting the nutrition they need from home, I’m conflicted with your response, Adam.  Wouldn’t the “holistic” approach to solve the problem be to actually serve them the food we know they aren’t getting? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to eat healthier foods, not because a a brightly colored bag and cartoon tells them too, but because hopefully, they will learn to do this by the time they are adults. Shouldn’t we be doing this with gradual process over the course of their school years, not just this semester. How can they possibly learn the difference…if they never see the difference? Let me repeat a quote from earlier, from a very smart man..

Children require multiple touch points and repetition.

So, Adam, do we repeat quick and easy processed foods for convenience, or do we repeat healthier eating behavior?

Just because parents may not be feeding them the most nutritious foods at home, doesn’t mean the schools should have to accept an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude. These kids do have the ability to grow, learn and adopt new behaviors. If this were not true, I would have never put my child in a car seat during his toddler years. He hated it. I shudder just thinking about the car seat wars. He would cry. I would cry. In the winter time, it was an even bigger inconvenience due to the extra layers he had on.  Instead, based on the model of my and all other parents back in the 70’s, I would have just let him bounce around in the back seat while driving…because that’s the only way I could get him happy and agreeable. Plus, it was fine when my parents did it. I’m still alive, what’s the harm, right? Yet, here we are today, those same kids, now using car seats, because as it turns out…our parents were wrong….and crazy (sorry, mom). Thankfully, as it turns out, my son did learn to accept the car seat.

And, I still hold true to my opinion on profits. When you say their profit margin is only 0.5% – 1.5%, I have to consider to what it is a  percentage of.  Is this a percentage of barely breaking even chump change? Or is it a percentage based off of millions (with an “s”) dollars? Considering the executive’s bonuses are in the millions (still, with an “s”), I’m going to choose the latter.

I then have to consider that the profits from school sales, do not reflect the additional profits from the revenue generated by the rebates they get from client and interest contracts. This is where that damn Pop Tart comes in. That revenue percentage is in the 26% range. I would also have to consider that, not only do they get rebates from the companies, but they also get to keep the difference in price of what they negotiate outside of the school’s realm with that Pop Tart.

I  have to consider, that the cost of the Cool*caf is not free. This is to be paid back to ARAMARK by my (or anyone’s)  school district. This is where my taxes come in big time. And, no, Adam, since I live in one of the highest property tax rate areas in North Texas, I am not willing to pay more. And because I live in one of the highest tax rate areas in North Texas, the parents cannot afford more. So, to answer your question, I think the percentage of parents willing to pay  $1-$2 extra falls somewhere in the “why don’t you shit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first” range.* Especially when it’s a matter of our children’s health at the sake of any food contractor’s profit. (*Totally in referece to the food contractors…not you. I need your imput. I’m not putting you personally in the bad guy category…)

So, consider the small profit from school sales, add the rebates, add the price diffference they keep from volume discounts, add the price of the cool*caf construction, add the separate management fees attached to the cool*caf…and bring it back to that $1.25 you mentioned.

Yes, the $1.25 should cover the cost of ingredients and preparation. Now, tell me Adam, how much did the ingredients and preparation cost to serve that reimbursable  Pop Tart? Or the reheated chicken nuggets? To make this clear to the people who don’t understand what I’m saying, let me explain…(and Adam, tell me if I’m wrong here…because I very well could be….

Looking at an elementary school in Chicago, an ARAMARK, cool*caf school..they charge $1.50 for breakfast and $.50 more for milk…so, $2.00.

For the reimbursable breakfast, they offer a (brand name rebate-worthy) Gogurt stick and animal crackers, orange juice and milk for an additional charge. If a child spends $2.00 on this meal and the school must also pay a management fee on top of this sale and repay the cafeteria decoration update overtime….can you honestly say that this does not take away from the actual cost of the food they could be having?

As a former USDA employee of 15 years, is this what the government really had in mind to help children eat healthier? Is this what the child nutrition act is all about? I know that the guidelines are minimal…but come on..isn’t this taking advantage?

I understand why the menus look impressive to you; they are to me as well. I am assuming since you were not familiar with it before, you worked for a different company. (you’re off the aramark hook) The fruit and veggie cart is a great idea…until you put sack lunches on it. And then realize you could have done the same thing with an extra cafeteria table and a bright table cloth. The menus they show to school districts and parents before contract… are nothing like the reality of what they get. If you don’t believe me, then please, read these….the Chicago menus,  this, and this. I am all for websites and other technologies to help the kids, but it’s a bit of a stretch to consider ARAMARK’s “glitzy”. That’s the thing, if they are going charge people for this amazing program,  then they had better be sure that it is, indeed,  glitzy;  and they better practice what they preach..

So, long story even longer…I want to assure you that I would never assume to be a mom “with tremendous upbringing skills”. Everyday, I try to make sure I’m dong the right thing concerning my child and every day brings a new learning experience for me. Knowing that your child shouldn’t be eating crap all day does not take a tremendous amout of skill. Quite minimal, in fact.

 Also, I was a manager, not an executive…very big difference:)  It was not my former job that gave me the skills it takes to see when money is being made at the price of any kid’s health. It did, however, give me the skills to translate and interpret vague corporate language to that of people who may not understand. It also helped me see that we, as parents are being “marketed” too, as well. And in a very “dumbed down” sort of way. That is why I decided to blog. I am not attempting to be “fashionable” or obtain “tabloid” exposure by giving information by blogging any more than you are by commenting on a blog. We both have information, we both want to share it.

I am very lucky in that my district is very transparent and receptive on issues like this. They have a school health advisory board (made up of mostly parents), post their budget and check register online, have always answered any questions or concerns immediately, and have a program made for parents called A.L.I.V.E; which walks the parents through every aspect of the district. So, yes, I have spoken to them. Again, I’m not mad at them. We don’t even use ARAMARK. We still have issues related to food quality…but, again, that comes with cost from the contractors.

And yes, state reps are being called. That is why we are having this discussion in the first place. Because somewhere in another state, a high school senior, that I have never met, asked aramark to give her the ingredients of what she was eating..and they said no. Because somewhere, a teacher that I have never met, has agreed to eat the same thing her students had to eat, because she felt bad for them. And because another teacher in another state was told to quit selling fruit and stop questioning the food quality. And because these kids have to eat this….

And none of them are worried about being overweight. It’s beyond that.

This is not just “my” revolution, or the parents, or the teachers, or the kid’s. It belongs to everyone..including schools, food contractors, the USDA,  and yes, consultants. Everyone needs to take ownership.

So, again,  thank you Adam, for the comment. I wish more people from the “other side of the fence” would. And again, if I am still missing the point…please, by all means, help me out. Seriously. Because from where I’m standing, the food contractors are definitely blocking my view. Your information is needed.

Oh…and I did not in any way mean to “make it sound as if they were making a killing”. I meant for it in every way to come across that they are making a killing.

Sorry for any confusion.

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20 Comments to “an honest opinion about the food revolution from a different point of view.”

  1. I am kind of glad he stepped out of the conversation since he presumes so much… If he has enough guts to point this out I want to know where I said I am anti management, and called anyone a name… I think Adam also presumes that I am a toe tapping mom who expects the world to do as I say because I am screaming the loudest. Well that is not the kind of mom I am as what kind of example would that be setting for my children? Am I disappointed that I “caused a stir” ABSOLUTELY NOT… I am going to use it to my childrens advantage (to the advantage of all the kids in our school district, which feeds over 65 thousand kids a day.

  2. >kitchen is giving kids as options that matters. Profit shouldn’t even be a >consideration, everyone should be breaking even here so that the >people winning are the kids.Profits of the managing company is not a good metric to improve quality of the food operation. Most districts in the US public schools lose money in food service – does this mean they’re feeding students any better? I rather have a for-profit company serving nutritious food that is safe, appealing and marketing to children so they eat the food and have them make a profit, rather than a non-profit serving average food. When you purchased your child’s car seat – did you look for a company that made little or no profit, or did you look for a car seat that is the safest within your budget? What is the difference?Adios for ever and good luck.

  3. My last comment on this site and I’ll leave alone – so you can continue to stir things up: You said:”School food is simple… it is business men and bureaucrats that make it complicated” Now – there is some truth in the latter part of the above sentences…but the first part is simply WRONG! Now to make it right, all you have to do is add a few words to revise it as such:”School Food is simple if it is FUNDED Properly”The reality of it is that is is not funded properly…not too different than the overall Education system itself. USDA reimburses each meal by $2.68 (for each free meal served). Reality is, this rate at times (depending on the school district) subsidizes reduced rate or paid lunches. Typical lunch cost is approximately $1.25-$1.75 nationwide. So, the food service operation (regardless if it is run by a FSMC or not) needs to target a rate of $1.75 for revenue side of the operation. If your district sells paid meals for less than $1.25 and your free/reduced participation rate is less than 80%, this operational revenue target should be less. Now – being a mom, I am sure you are as familiar with food budgeting. So – in a typical operation this $1.75 needs to cover the following:- Labor (chefs, cooks, servers, cleaners) – (typically 20-28%, can be much more if unionized or in an expensive labor market)- Management (yes – you do need a good manager or managers depending on your size of the operation) – let’s say 2% since you are very anti-management- Food equipment (unless you want the students to eat out of a box) – this is typically amortized but can be 1%-5% of all costs that are indirect- Facility costs (utilities, space, cleaning) – most schools keep this under a different budget, smart ones do allocate the costs to the Food Service Department – let’s say 0% assuming your school keeps this separate.- Paper Goods (I presume there are paper or similar trays) – about 5-10%and of course FOOD cost. Now, by the time you get to Food, you already spent close to $0.85 or more. Let’s assume you have $0.90 left. So for $0.90 – you have to serve milk, meat or meat alternative (protein), two servings of fruit and grains (bread). Of course – you want locally served products (and yes – local products tend to be a bit more expensive unless you are very lucky).Do you want greener products (an alternative to styrofoam packaging) – expect to pay more.Now – you want the best food for your children and willing to stir things up, call names and make acquisitions – but you do not want higher taxes. Of course, our government is not likely to increase funding – at least not anytime soon. So the question is simple, without figuring out the funding side of school lunch, is school food really that simple?

  4. Well you are right on one account and that is no they are not selling twinkies… but it is an example of unhealthy options. But they are serving a bunch of prefried crap in our schools and it’s just not an acceptable option. Considering that my children go to a school where a large percentage of kids are getting a free lunch chances are their parents are not going to be packing them a lunch… reality is this very well could be the ONLY meal they are getting. I wasn’t praising teachers for anything.. I was saying that our school districts FNS mission is to educate… do they do this. HA! It’s one of the reasons I am creating such a stir. They aren’t even following through with their mission and it pisses me off!And teachers are not making it impossible for kids to eat, parents are. Our school doors open a full 40 minutes before the school day starts so kids can come in and partake in this all important meal AND at our school teachers call to have them bring a snack to their children if they do not have a chance to eat at home (how do I know, well because I got that call just the other day myself…whole other story) School food is simple… it is business men and bureaucrats that make it complicated.

  5. Andrea – Great – I am glad you will have some face time at your school. Just keep in mind that it is not black an white. You can cause a quite a stir and be very happy about this as you are accomplishing something. This does not mean you actually do. I highly doubt that your school is selling a twinkie as you cannot sell a twinkie in most public school districts either as part of a meal or at cost. I usually recommend offering multiple options and I agree with you that more fruit is better than limiting fruit options. Typically, you would like to keep fruits separate than other snacks/candy and include it in the meal. However, I will also argue that many students may opt not to get anything when they are not offered reasonable options and decline meals altogether resulting in fewer meals sold and thus lower subsidies. The challenge is finding the balance. Majority of the time, not selling something will get more complaints ans students will bring from home. In most of the cases (not in your case obviously) what they bring from home will be less healthy than what is offered at school (I may be wrong of course depending on the district). I noticed above you were praising a teacher or teachers for something. It maybe interesting for you to know that one of the key reasons students cannot get breakfast in classroom or into the classroom is due to resistance from teachers. Do you think teachers are bad because they are not making it convenient for their students to eat the most important meal of the day? I do not think so – except they do not want the mess or the loudness / interruption that comes with the most important meal of the day. Only if school food was as simple as it looks like it is from the outside….

  6. meant to say- it doesn’t matter who is running the kitchen, it’s what the kitchen is giving kids as options that matters. Profit shouldn’t even be a consideration, everyone should be breaking even here so that the people winning are the kids.

  7. Response to DrSuRu:you are giving a link to a union site? is this your response? really? and you claim to be an advocate to school food? The last things unions want is to see a FSMC take over an operation. In case you are not aware, unions have been threatening FSMC to provide access (to unions) in their existing accounts. The districts typically do not want this because it will naturally increase costs and so it is very difficult for a FSMC to try to sell into a district when there might be a possibility that a union may come with them. I am not saying unions are bad or good – in generally they increase the cost of the operation for the district (higher taxes). Unions have been losing memberships left and right due to the car companies bankruptcy and other factors (most foreign auto manufacturers go to States where unions do not have monopoly). So – this inductry is a prime target. For good reason.

  8. I want to answer these questions… I also want to mention that MY revolution started with a letter to the school board and I have created a “stir” …1) I realize blogging is the “fashionable” way of getting your message across and maybe even getting some tabloid, but have you communicated your concerns to the district and have a clear understanding of their requirements and constraints of the food service program? – FOR ME BLOGGIN IS MY WAY TO HELP ORGANIZE MY THOUGHTS AND PROVIDE PARENTS WITH A WAY TO CONNECT WITH ME2) Did you request / meet with the management of the Food Service program? YES< I AM ACTUALLY HAVING MY MEETING AT MY CHILDREN”S SCHOOL MONDAY DURING LUNCH. WE WILL BE EATING IN THE CAFETERIA AS THAT IS JUST THE MOST APPROPRIATE SETTING FOR THIS DISCUSSION3) Maybe you can also contact your state representatives to make sure the USDA school lunch program is managed and funded properly? AT THIS POINT THEY CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON AND THIS IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD IF RESISTANCE IS WHAT I AM MET WITH.The truth is that even the USDA is challenging school to do better. There are parents who are saying “well my kids won’t eat that” well of course not, if you have two options… a banana and a twinkie, they will chose the twinkie… but if the choices are a banana, an apple and an orange… well they will chose their favorite of the 3. These are all inexpensive fruits and so this option can be a reality.As for foods that kids have never tried before, well our school district talks about teaching kids nutrition… if this is a fact, we need to start by looking at the school menu, discussing this new food that is on the menu and talking about why it is healthy for the kid to encourage them to try it. That is how you garner interest with kid… education.

  9. Also – forgot to mention in reference to local food. The biggest barriers include amount available for the district (unless the district is tiny), the cost (yes it is more expensive) and safety. If the district says, we will only locally source, some of the FSMC may not be interested due to the constraints mentioned above.

  10. In response to DrSuRu:I am not sure how you define being a school advocate, but I do not think it means an expert in School Food Service. The quality of food that a district serves is purely driven by the existing requirements they have in place in managing the food service operation and has very little to do if it is outsourced or insourced. Having been in this business for 20+ years, I can tell you that there are many districts that do a superb job by managing on their own via local sourcing, scratch cooking and some of the other factors you mentioned above. However, there are many FSMC that do just as good of a job …. as long as that is what the district wants. In fact, I will argue most FSMCs have better and more proven practices in place that typically work better than a district managing on its own unless it is a larger district that really cares about food and nutrition. Smaller districts can do this as well – but it will be more costly. Your common sense reference to a middle man is very limited in thinking and makes me doubt that any of your advocacy work has given you any knowledge about school food service. This is like saying, why do we need car dealers? Why don’t we buy direct from the car manufacturer. The fact of the matter is, the middle man brings economies of scale. Here are only a few advantages of outsourcing. This is by no means that outsourcing is right for every school district or will in fact improve food service. 1) FSMCs have research and development including chefs, dietiticans and operators who make living in developing the recipes, processes, training required to run a food operation. This is not just for processed food, but it includes for all type of capacity a school may have. For example, number one reason a school will buy ready to eat food is due to lack of equipment – not because the fsmc is making a killing in processed food. There are also safety measures bith USDA and other schools have put in place to take short cuts for safety reasons. For example, a large school district will buy cooked / frozen chicken rather that raw. The reason for this is usually liability. The front line workers may not be able to cook the chicken right – causing a child to get sick and in turn getting sued. Can it be done from scratch – absoulutely with a little more money (taxpayer money that is). 2) FSMCs are willing to invest in equipment when a school district cannot or simply does not have the money to do so. They can get loans easier and can amortize the equipment depending on the contract length3) They have purchasing power on not just food – but everything ranging from IT systems, equipment to the labels that are placed on food to identify the source 4) They have better (usually) systems to more effectively use commodities or brown boxes (government subsidized food). Most have arrangements in place with other manufacturers where higher quality food can be purchased using commodities.5) They have better systems for food safety and safety in general. Because of potential liability – they use strict protocol to clean the kitchens and serve food. In my years at USDA, I visited self-op schools where their kitchens had not been sanitized for more than 5 years because the workers simply did not know how.There are actually a few more – but I am running out of time. This is just to point out that the combined advantages of a properly hired FSMC significantly outweighs how much you pay them. However, comments above to say they are in it for the money is also accurate. Which for profit company is not? Really. It all depends how good of a job a district does in identifying their needs, requirements, etc.I do not mean to sound to capitalistic as I have worked for the government for a long time – but this is the truth.

  11. In response to rr wftx post – if you do not believe children have buying / purchasing power and influence – I think you are from a different planet. Just google it:http://www.globalissues.org/article/237/children-as-consumers

  12. In my 14+ years as a school food advocate, I’ve yet to see any school district that outsources lunch to a food service management company make any meaningful positive change in their food.I’m not talking about baked chips or nuggets, whole wheat pizza crust and low fat cheese, bringing in Vitamin Water instead of Coca Cola. This is superficial window dressing.I’m talking about real food, made from scratch, sourced from local/ regional farms. That would be meaningful change.This is likely to never work in the fsmc-run districts. Those companies are making too damn much money by keeping the system the way it is. Common sense will tell you, if there is a middle man taking out 1% or 5% profit from the equation, our kids lose out.

  13. Hi John,
    I’m truly sorry if I have offended you. The last thing I want to do is give partial information. Unfortunately, there is just way too much information for one person to share. You are more than welcome to fill in any blanks that I have left out or that you want to share. I have another blog that feeds into this one…for some reason, the comments by other readers don’t come to this site. You can see what other’s are saying here…
    http://mesquiteparent.posterous.com/an-honest-opinion-about-the-food-revolution-f
    That may fill in some gaps for you, if not, then again, you are more than welcome to contribute. I think its important for everyone to throw in their opinions/suggestions/feelings/anger/frustration/happiness…whatever..about the subject.
    I’m not sure what wellness team you are on, but I hope that for the sake of the other parents who want to voice their concerns, they feel comfortabe doing so. By you telling me that I’m not nice, you don’t want me on your team, bitching isn’t helping anyone…someone else like another parent, student, teacher, etc. could be reading this may decide not to get involved or feel like that cannot voice their concerns because they aren’t welcome. And honestly, that is what will alienate them.
    So..let’s start over. You don’t feel like I am offering all the information. You don’t like your son’s lunch as well. What is it that you feel we should do to get things better?

  14. You are not nice and you are full of partial information. I’m mad about the quality of my son’s lunch, but I don’t want you on my wellness team. Your bitching isn’t helping anyone, only alienating others…

  15. also, you canNOT market to children. Most children have little to no buying power wse. Most children canNOT obtain an income, therefore they can purchase.. NOThing! If some irresponsible adults allow children to decide that a happy meal is a great dietary choice, that doesnt mean schools have to follow suit. Therefore as Ms. Mesquite has said, marketing healthy food to the children is unnecessary. Imo using marketing as an educational tool is one of the basest, most corrupt things i have ever heard of. Serve healthy well prepared food. expect the children to eat it, offer no cheap or unhealthy alternative, and no place to discard the food. remember most kids if given the purchasing power of their parents, would spend it on enough candy, slushies, video games, hannah montana, and happy meals to kill a zebra. Im very liberal and free spirited, but kids need guidance, patience, a good example and limits. not MARKETING!

  16. I think the anger comes from feeling like the contractors are more focused on driving costs down to maintain profit margins. The purpose of school food is to nurture children. If a company cant provide quality food for a reasonable price, their business has failed, even if it can continue financially. I dont think we need a committee to figure out that chicken nuggets, tater tots, etc are not quality food but cheap snack food. This argument is exhausting. Do not eat the school food. Boycott fast food and food processing. Buy and eat only whole vegetables/fruit/herbs, grains, meat, milk, eggs. Flood the food corporate mail boxes and email inboxes with letters. Call every single day. A boycott is the economic answer to consumer unrest. Do not buy. We are refusing to punish these corporations for their failure. We are in fact telling them that serving tater tots and excuses is commendable. Do not buy the food. Dont allow your children to eat it. Rock the boat like Tara, Q, and Mendy.

  17. FYI – Contract food service is approximately a 4 to 5% profit margin. That is, 4% of gross receipts are pure profit… even in your child’s school. Aramark, Sodexho, etc. will not let that drop below 4%… instead they will find every single possible way to cut costs in order to maintain the profit level. I know because I was once on the front lines, implementing the cost cutting and maximizing the profits.

  18. Thank you Mom from Mesquite for your response and I’ll try to defend / articulate my point-of view. You have included a VP’s response in your blog as part of your response. With all due respect, I am not sure what your point is on the quote you gave. Please note that he is comparing the “approach” to McDonald’s and not the food. This comparison can be very valid – since children of all ages know McDonald’s and unfortunately McDonald’s have cracked the code in marketing to kids effectively. So, there is no harm in applying some of these techniques to get the students to eat healthier food. What I would be interested is to see what is inside the bag. If your district is following the USDA guidelines, there is a good chance there will be fruits and milk and other healthier items inside the bag…. And I am pretty sure the items will be in fact much better than what you are likely to see in a Happy Meal. Therefore, I think this approach is dead on – appealing to kids in ways they can relate. I fail to understand why you are conflicted in my response? I also fail to understand how you can be in agreement with me (e.g. marketing to kids make sense in ways they understand via multiple touch points) and still be vehemently against a concept such as CoolCaf or colored bags or other effective ways to change student’s behaviors. CoolCaf promotes eating more fruits and vegetables (at least based on the video and what I read using the links you provided) – is that bad? It’s mascot promotes breakfast and exercise – is that bad?You’re saying:“Shouldn’t we be encouraging them to eat healthier foods, not because a a brightly colored bag and cartoon tells them too, but because hopefully, they will learn to do this by the time they are adults. Shouldn’t we be doing this with gradual process over the course of their school years, not just this semester.”I agree – but these brightly colored bag and cartoons is part of the equation. You cannot expect your kids to love opera by forcing them to listen to opera. You have to start with children’s songs! Again – you are saying:“Just because parents may not be feeding them the most nutritious foods at home, doesn’t mean the schools should have to accept an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude.”Again, I agree and argue that generally speaking children are eating much healthier at schools then they eat at home. In fact, I urge you to investigate the nutritional contents of a lunch packed by moms brought from home versus those that are sold at school. I also agree that natural food is much better than processed food. However, as you eloquently stated, there are many considerations at stake such as school/district budget, equipment, labor, etc. In efforts to attack a corporation for what you consider “poor quality” food, you are shooting the messenger. There are many other obstacles along the way to consider. However, before we get to that, I will provide some answers. You’re saying:“And, I still hold true to my opinion on profits. When you say their profit margin is only 0.5% – 1.5%, I have to consider to what it is a percentage of. Is this a percentage of barely breaking even chump change? Or is it a percentage based off of millions (with an “s”) dollars? Considering the executive’s bonuses are in the millions (still, with an “s”), I’m going to choose the latter.” I am not sure what you state here is relevant. I sense you are very angry at these companies for being in this business. Would it make you happier if they lost money or were a non-profit business? These companies provide a service in exchange for a contract signed with the district. Most districts have a semi-decent process in place (not perfect) where they evaluate several providers and proceed with one. Outsourcing is often pursued to improve the program and reduce costs (i.e. taxpayer money). So – as long as the company is providing a service that is acceptable to the constituents, I am not sure why you are annoyed at what they are making or not making. Do you evaluate the profit margins of a company when you are buying a car for yourself? A question for you:1) Have you made any attempts to contact the Food Service operation to discuss your concerns? Take a school tour. You said you did contact the company, but did you talk to their managers?Maybe you should?You said:“I then have to consider that the profits from school sales, do not reflect the additional profits from the revenue generated by the rebates they get from client and interest contracts. This is where that damn Pop Tart comes in. That revenue percentage is in the 26% range. I would also have to consider that, not only do they get rebates from the companies, but they also get to keep the difference in price of what they negotiate outside of the school’s realm with that Pop Tart.”You may want to investigate more before making assumptions. Those rebates you are mentioning get returned back to the school district per USDA. For schools in Texas, purchasers have to go through the Texas Purchasing Consortium. I have no data on the profit margin associated with a Pop Tart versus a fruit – however, my guess would be a fruit would have a higher margin. Pop Tarts served in schools are whole grain versus the ones available through retail and have less sugar. They are processed and should not be compared to something more natural. However, in a balanced approach, there should not be an issue if served once in a while.Note that in your assessment of the menu, you are not offering any of the positives such as the fruits and vegetables that are offered. Are their any other offerings that are not mentioned in the menu? Did you visit the cafeteria? Maybe you should (as mentioned above), contact the food service and request a visit. This will be more effective as you can ask your questions in person rather than relying on secondary information.You said:“I have to consider, that the cost of the Cool*caf is not free. This is to be paid back to ARAMARK by my (or anyone’s) school district. This is where my taxes come in big time. And, no, Adam, since I live in one of the highest property tax rate areas in North Texas, I am not willing to pay more. And because I live in one of the highest tax rate areas in North Texas, the parents cannot afford more. So, to answer your question, I think the percentage of parents willing to pay $1-$2 extra falls somewhere in the “why don’t you shit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first” range.*”Who pays for an investment in the cafeteria depends on the agreement the service provider has with the district. These decisions are usually made with several considerations in mind. Part of the investment can be a “fruit bar” as mentioned by the video link. Is that a bad thing for the children? Also, if the USDA qualified meals increase as a result of the investment, the district qualifies for additional government subsidies which in turn can reduce overall costs and help the district to route the funds for other uses (e.g. education). You can obtain additional details through:http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/aboutlunch/NSLPFactSheet.pdfYou say:“Especially when it’s a matter of our children’s health at the sake of any food contractor’s profit. (*Totally in referece to the food contractors…not you. I need your imput. I’m not putting you personally in the bad guy category…)”Now – I am beginning to believe that you do have something against the food contractor (not me) and I have no idea why and frankly do not care one way or another. You say:“Looking at an elementary school in Chicago, an ARAMARK, cool*caf school..they charge $1.50 for breakfast and $.50 more for milk…so, $2.00.For the reimbursable breakfast, they offer a (brand name rebate-worthy) Gogurt stick and animal crackers, orange juice and milk for an additional charge. If a child spends $2.00 on this meal and the school must also pay a management fee on top of this sale and repay the cafeteria decoration update overtime….can you honestly say that this does not take away from the actual cost of the food they could be having?”I have no idea what you really mean in the above paragraph. Is Gogurt part of the reimbursable meal? Or it is extra? Regardless, your assumptions are likely to be inaccurate. How much a company charges for additional items depends on the contract. In certain instances, the contract may have favorable terms for the district – so the money that is made from additional charges is held by the district. You are making assumptions about what they sell and how much profit they are making with each transaction. In reality, it simply does not work that way. I can tell you the following:- Districts usually outsource to reduce their costs or cost exposure and increase food quality. -Other costs that maybe on the books of the district can also be reduced significantly such as labor and benefits. This can cause bit of a dilemma. Do you prefer higher taxes to pay above market wages for a cafeteria employee or do you prefer market rates (i.e. what Mc Donald’s pays) and have higher taxes? I am simplifying, but you get the point.-Often times, food operations of a district lose money. Essentially, they have to subsidize these costs by other means (again – potentially higher taxes). Some service providers bring expertise and lower costs along with marketing and quality to increase meal participation. Sometimes, they take the risk away from the district. What you are trying to accomplish is commendable – but not well thought out. Have you heard about the FRAC report – which does a good job outlining “more significant” issues?http://www.frac.org/Best of luck 🙂

  19. Blogging=fashionable. I was very interested in Mr. Marvin’s thoughtful letter, but thought that remark was somewhat condescending. Blogging is not fashionable. It is a communication tool in today’s world.He spoke about profit margins, but not the actual cost of food and food processing/preparation. However you did. And your thoughts mirror mine when it comes to profit, service and value. How much does it cost to serve apple slices or half a banana and mini muffin v.s. a pop tart? Which one carries more overhead and production cost? Which one has more nutrient value? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine which of these cost more or have a better dietary value. It’s easy to calculate which one provides more gross profit. I do believe that the USDA guidlines need a major overhaul to include limits on sodium content, processed sugars, fats, additives and carbohydrates. In addition, define nutrient values (30% of daily sodium, fats, carbs, etc.) and make mandatory published ingredient lists. Processed foods like tater tots and french fries should not be considered a vegetable. And they should be limited in the number of times they can be served. I could go on. All I ask is that we have an honest discussion. Drop the corporate-speak. Let’s talk about real costs. Thank you.

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