by Lucy Lu
Food price increases and a change to Sodexo Food Services have subtly transformed the cafeteria this school year.
Newton Public Schools’ regularly-priced lunches increased 30 to 35 cents, with North prices raised from $3.50 to $3.85, according to Chief of Operations Michael Cronin. Reduced lunch, however, remains the same at 40 cents.
“Lunch prices in the district had not been raised since 2003,” said Cronin, “We were behind most of our comparative districts and raised prices to be in line with current standards.”
According to Cronin, the price increase is not associated with the recent switch to Sodexo and the change occurred before the food provider’s involvement with the district.
The Newton Public Schools food committee decided to initiate a three-year contract with Sodexo this year, replacing Whitsons’ School Nutrition, the previous food service provider. Food service companies propose or renew bids every three years.
“Sodexo was not the cheapest bid,” said food services director Rachel Oppenheimer. “But, just like if you were shopping, you would compare both prices and functionality.”
Founded in 1966, the food service provider serves facilities including hospitals, senior living spaces, and schools in 80 countries.
The priority at Sodexo is nutritional balance and quality, according to Cronin. Given that, food preparation and packaging at Sodexo is much more time-consuming and detail-oriented, said food services worker Darlene Atkins, who previously worked with Whitsons’ at North for two years.
Having worked at different Sodexo locations for over seven years, executive chef Dwayne Richardson believes in the company’s philosophies. “There’s just a better quality of life here at Sodexo,” said Richardson. “Its working policies cater to family situations which is important to me because I have kids, but we also just have a great team.”
Like Atkins, more than 85 percent of lunch staff remained through the transition from Whitsons’ to Sodexo. According to Cronin, staff sign with individual companies, and once company contracts expire, staff contracts do as well, making workers unemployed until they sign with the next company.
Food services worker Alex Maciel said the Sodexo contract offers better health insurance and other benefits; on the other hand, Atkins noted differences in hours and meal purchases.
“Because I work two jobs, I am only allowed to work seven hours a day,” said Atkins. “Before, I could stay here as long as I wanted and still get paid by the hour.
“And although the only thing I usually eat here is a burger, the staff used to be able to get free meals, but now there are certain things we have to pay for.”
In addition to new staff, students will be seeing changes to food options as well. According to Oppenheimer, Sodexo apparently offers two hot and two cold lunches instead of one hot and one cold lunch.
However, some students who buy cafeteria lunch daily have not noticed major changes.
“I’ve heard about the changes, but to me the menus are more or less the same,” said junior Natasha Milet-Carty. “The quality of the ingredients and food seem a lot better though.”
In a similar sentiment, junior Spencer Bowman said he “only noticed the change after seeing the Sodexo logo in the cafeteria because the food seems the same as before.”
Regardless of the seemingly subtle transformations in the cafeteria recently, Sodexo as well as the district plan to assess the effectiveness of the changes.
Cronin emphasized the need for student and parent input by implementing a series of surveys.
According to Oppenheimer, the food services program looks to form a committee of North students, faculty, and staff to discuss cafeteria-related topics.
“It would be really helpful if we had a representative group of the school to gauge feedback,” she said. “With global roots here at Sodexo, we have the opportunity to learn and implement the best practices tried all around the world.”