Aramark will put lunch test kitchens in secondary schools

Made-to-order meals can be assembled in front of students

Aramark representative Ted Bridges was at the township committee’s business and facilities meeting earlier this month to share updates on food services for the upcoming school year.

Starting in the fall, lunches are going cashless at township elementary schools. Parents can load money through the PaySchools app.

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“If a child didn’t have funding on their account, we would feed that student and reach out to the parent and give them 10 days for a response,” Bridges said. ”If there was no response or corrective action, we would involve a higher level, probably the principal, to reach out to the parents again.”

He also cited district and state policies on the issue that help the situations typically resolve themselves.

Also starting in the fall, Aramark will add “test kitchens” at the five secondary schools, where made-to-order meals can be assembled or cooked in front of students. The high schools’ test kitchens will include an induction stove with magnetic resonance heat that is cool to the touch but hot enough to cook on. A la carte items and made-to-order food are expected to return.

To address menu stagnation with older students, Bridges noted that offerings will rotate on a weekly basis. The main four will be Italian, Asian, carving and breakfast for lunch, but also Indian, Caribbean or Southern barbeque. 

“It’s really home-style ingredients,” he said. “It’s trying to bring a little bit of flare and some different ethnicities, tastes and experiences for the kids.” 

Some of the challenges Aramark faces for the upcoming school year include delays in manufacturing and the supply chain, staffing and regulatory changes. But the company will continue to bring back old and new food services. 

The ban on single-use bags has also impacted the district’s food services department given the ban on Styrofoam, the material for lunch trays. Though Aramark looked at using compostable trays, it was five times as expensive and could be more environmentally costly if there aren’t processes to help break down the material, which there aren’t in Cherry Hill.

Another option is using paper “boats” that hamburgers are sometimes served on at restaurants. While they aren’t as big as trays, they do help organize food.  Bridges noted the main reason the company can’t switch to reusable trays is that there is no place to wash them. 

“We don’t have an answer for trays,” he acknowledged.

Aramark is continuing free food distribution throughout the summer on Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m. at Cherry Hill East. The next committee meetings will be held on Aug. 30 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lewis Administration Building.

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