Last week I wrote an article shedding light on the student body's opinions of the new healthy options becoming available in the cafeteria. A lot of students complained that the new produce was either not ripe, spoiled or generally suspicious looking.
Seeing these comments in the article, Becky Selcke, the general manager of the Sodexo On-Site Service Solutions in Geneva, offered to sit down with me and answer any and all questions about the new healthy options, the "Be Healthy, Eat Healthy, Live Healthy" Program, and what the long-term goals are for healthy food in the cafeteria.
Patch: Thank you so much for sitting down with me, Ms. Selcke. Now when exactly did the "Be Healthy, Eat Healthy, Live Healthy" program begin?
Selcke: Well, having kids eat healthy has always been a part of our business. The new program is really just a reflection of what we've been doing for years—the name "Be Healthy, Eat Healthy, Live Healthy" is really just the new lingo to make kids more aware that the healthy choices are being presented to them. Everything we do is geared toward giving kids more healthy options.
What exactly is the goal of the program?
The program intends to reach every student—tell them what we serve, educate kids on nutrition, and even give them taste tests and samples of new products becoming available. It's all about educating kids on making the right choices. The interesting thing is that when we advertised a low-fat cheese pizza with a whole grain crust, kids didn't touch it, because we kept dubbing it "healthy." But when we just presented this new pizza without advertising it any more than the rest of the products, kids bought more of it, because it was normal. We want kids to make healthy choices not because these choices are new and healthy, but because we want these products to one day become the normal everyday lunch items.
How do the workers of Sodexo ensure that the produce is staying clean (i.e. not being touched or tampered with in the lunch line)?
Unfortunately there isn't a way to be a sure-fire 100 percent about items being tampered with—our workers are monitoring of course, and they pull all the products not purchased in a previous line to the front row. We try our hardest, though; a few years ago students were stealing salad dressings out of salad containers without purchasing the salad, so in response, we sealed the salad boxes shut. We try our hardest to put the cleanest produce out there.
Is there a way to guarantee that all the products out on the shelves are safe?
Our products come from certified vendors, approved directly by Sodexo. If a product is recalled, we try to take that product out of our lunchroom. Ninety percent of the time we luckily do not carry the product being carried, such as peanut butter, since Geneva is a peanut-free school district. Still, we make sure we are always notified on product recalls and remove them immediately. Once we prepped all of the salads for the day only to find out that morning that black beans were recalled, so we went back and removed all of the black beans. We care about kids' safety.
Where does all of the fresh produce come from?
We generally use the same vendor for all of our food products, Gordon Food Service in Michigan. They are our specific supplier of produce.
Why does there always seem to be more packages of fries in the cafeteria than healthier options like strawberries and grapes?
Fries are made by demand. Fast-take items (fruit and vegetables) are packaged every morning based on how much we should make the next day, so we don't have leftovers or sell out quickly.
Are the new Jamba Juice smoothies becoming available in the cafeteria going to be more of a mainstay in the cafeteria?
As long as kids buy Jamba Juice, it's here. If kids keep buying the smoothies, great, then we'll keep carrying them. Sometimes when we want to sell new products, they only sell a lot because they're new. We want to try and avoid that with the Jamba Juice partnership.
Why are some products only available weekly rather than daily in the cafeteria?
Well, fresh produce costs are rising. The market is pretty bad these days. Not to mention strawberries are becoming out of season. Prices will climb depending on the season, which is unfortunate because we'd end up losing money at our customary cafeteria prices while the average store costs are rising.
How do you gauge how well each product does in the cafeteria?
The kids are eating them! (Laughs) Food is one of those things. Not everyone likes the same types of food. We really only know when a product is doing well by when they're off the shelves.
How can students vocalize their opinions about the products available in the cafeteria?
Just tell the cashiers! Also, they can always talk to the manager, Mrs. Horne. Some things do happen, and we recognize that. If a hamburger is bad or gross for some reason, we will be happy to replace it. Of course, the reasoning has to be legitimate. It can't be because the hamburger is "too bunny" or a strawberry "Doesn't taste very strawberry-y." Our workers love serving and take pride in their work.
How long does the produce stay on the shelves?
All of our produce products stay on the shelves for two days each. One day for when we actually package and put them out and the following day.
How do you ensure that all of the products are ripe and unspoiled?
Fresh fruit, like most things, is hard to determine—for instance, how should we know something isn't ripe enough just from the outside skin? When we can see flaws, like a bruised apple or a bad orange, we instantly send the entire box it comes in back. We definitely can't take risks.
How do you determine what produce to purchase?
We order our produce as it becomes available. Unfortunately, we can't have every fruit and vegetable for every season, as it takes a lot of money and time to get.
Some students have complained that the products available are not organic. Are any of the products organic?
We try not to advertise or sell products that are organic for a variety of reasons. They're expensive to get and perish almost immediately, so they won't reach the kids in time. However, all of our products are both healthy and edible, so we aren't selling anything toxic. Just not organic.
All right, thank you for meeting with me today Mrs. Selcke, it's been a pleasure. Final question: What advice do you have for kids roaming the rows of the cafeteria?
"First, just try something new—don't be afraid to try something new. Give all of our products a good try—you'll find out more about your taste than anyone could ever say. We give new choices to kids all the time, we make sure to get kids to expand their culinary horizons. Just try it, and maybe you'll like it. Make your own decisions and let yourself be the judge of your favorite foods."
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