Facing food shortages, Northborough/Southborough school administrators praise staff creativity

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A photo shows the inside of the kitchen at Trottier Middle School in Southborough. (Photo/Courtesy Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough)

NORTHBOROUGH – Facing food shortages, Food Services staff members at the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough have rolled up their sleeves to get creative. 

“We have had a couple of challenges, and, certainly these are a lot of well-known national issues and they do come to the boroughs,” Assistant Superintendent of Operations Keith Lavoie said during a Nov. 3 Northborough School Committee meeting. “We aren’t exempt from these things.” 

“[Northborough and Southborough Food Services Manager Kyle Parson] and his team have had to be incredibly creative around it,” he continued.

Staff adapts to disruptions

There is a food shortage, Lavoie said. He added that the district’s access to commodities and typically used items has been limited. 

Additionally, he said the district’s deliveries have been constrained by a truck driver shortage and schedule changes. 

Usually, the district schedules its menus on a monthly basis. Now, though, the menus are coming out two weeks at a time. 

“That is solely because of the unpredictability of the delivery and the food items that we’re able to get,” Lavoie said. 

Staff members have generalized some of the items on the menu, such as a chef’s salad, because Parson said they don’t know what food they will get until that food is delivered. 

Parson said that, over the years, the food services team has additionally tried to make the menus in Northborough and Southborough the same to create consistency between the two towns. 

But this year, Parson said, the two have been separated.

“That way, we would have less of a strain on our food providers for all of the products,” Parson said. 

Inconsistencies prompt unique solutions

Deliveries come on different days for Northborough and Southborough. Products have been inconsistent, Parson said.

In one case, lettuce was delivered frozen to Northborough. 

Staff adapted to make a Caprese salad, cutting government commodity mozzarella cheese while adding basil, seasoning and oil. 

In another case, staff got deliveries of French bread pizza from two different manufacturers. Food service staff made sure that students in each lunch period got the same pizzas as each other, so that students didn’t notice a difference. 

“These are our constant challenges, and luckily my staff is very good about, if they have a problem, they immediately shift into what can we do to fix it,” Parson said.

The two-week menus will be here to stay for the foreseeable future, administrators say. 

However, Lavoie said the situation has helped the district be more consistent and not change its menu items, which, among other things, help students with food allergies. 

School Committee members said they’ve heard positive feedback about meals. 

“I heard from a friend who has a middle schooler…Their mom told me, ‘The food at Melican is amazing. It’s so good,’” said Vice Chair Kelly Guenette. “So, they were raving about it, and they love it.”

Free meals for students

Meals are free in Massachusetts schools this year. 

Lavoie said meal participation is up slightly from last year. 

He said there are benefits of this program, despite the ongoing shortages, including the opportunity to save families money while boosting revenue for schools.

“It does break down some barriers,” Lavoie said. “Where everyone is given a free lunch, it does allow that barrier to break down so that students that do qualify through low income statuses and other things like that do not have a stigma at all.”