By Cole Weinstein SYRACUSE N.Y. (NCC News)
Two years ago, the Syracuse City School District started serving free after-school meals rather than just snacks at Delaware Primary School and McKinley-Brighton Elementary, according to Rachel Murphy, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Syracuse City School District. Now, the program has expanded to 13 schools all with after-school programs. Serving meals after school ends is something that only certain schools are eligible for.
“Unfortunately, the supper program can’t be incorporated into all the schools because of regulations,” said Murphy.
Children must be part of an eligible after-school program and opt into the program every day they want a free meal.
Serving an additional meal to the free breakfast and lunch already available to all students in the district comes with a challenge, according to Murphy. A single snack costs around 40 cents while a meal costs approximately $1.40. The cost of an after-school meal is greater than one served during the school day.
“We’re trying to give children handheld items that are going to be a little bit easier for them to consume with less staff present,” Murphy said. “It’s much less expensive to do a big set of macaroni and cheese or a big pan of ziti.”
This program is not a money maker for the school, according to Murphy. The program raises both the labor and food costs which can limit options for the district.
“We’re just trying to make a supper program that isn’t going to replicate or duplicate what they got during the regular school day. So it’s kind of pushed us on our creativity of what we’re offering,” Murphy said.
The feedback from students in the program has been mostly positive, according to Murphy. “The children definitely like having a hearty sandwich instead of Scooby Snacks and a juice,” she says.
The main feedback the program has received is a lack of variety, according to Murphy.
“We have to look at our menu and find ways to incorporate some new items that would increase the offerings for the kids who come every single day to the program,” said Murphy.
In addition to adding variety, Murphy is looking for new ways to expand the program. She is looking into the possibility of serving meals during Saturday programs.
“I’ve never fed children on a Saturday for the school district,” said Murphy. “I think we’re probably going to be able to grow this in the near future.”