New “grab-and-go” breakfast options, hopefully quicker lunch lines and more time to eat will all greet Hillsboro students when they return to school Monday.
Each morning when students wanting breakfast enter the high school or middle school, rather than heading to the line where a hot breakfast is served from 7:15 to 7:30, they will have the option of grabbing a prepackaged breakfast that will include items like cereal bars, muffins, donuts, protein bars, Smores Kravers, Nutri Grain bars, Pop Tarts and more, then choosing a juice or milk and fruit to go with it. Then they can take it directly to their homeroom to eat. There will be five to six different options each day from about 20 options that will rotate throughout the year.
There will be one grab-and-go cart in the high school hallway and another in the middle school hallway, according to Jessica Jones, who is entering her third year as director of food and nutrition services for the Hillsboro City Schools.
“The goal is just to increase participation. We have free breakfast and last year we averaged about 400 high school students taking advantage of it out of a potential of around 1,300,” Jones said. “It’s kind of frustrating that they don’t come and eat.”
She said the free breakfast, served from 8:35 to 8:55 a.m. at the elementary school, can save families money. And she said that since anything that students have left over can be left in a “share box,” picking up breakfast can also help other students.
“If they don’t want one they can throw it the share box and we’ll put in back in the refrigerator and at lunch kids can pick from it at no cost,” Jones said. “If you’re not going to eat, grab one anyway. Someone else will take advantage of it later.”
“There’s hungry kids. I can tell you from the share boxes,” she added. “There’s kids that just stand there waiting for kids to throw stuff in.”
Another new option this year is what Jones called “biometric measuring.” Basically what that means is that rather than entering a six-digit number when paying for their lunch, students can just touch their finger to a scanner. Jones said the hope is to make lunch lines move more quick.
For a few years now the school has offered an online option that allows parents to prepay for lunches. But each time they entered a payment, the parents were charged a $1.95 fee. Jones said that fee has been eliminated this year.
Lunchtime will also be longer. Although it’s mostly due to academic scheduling, student will have 41 minutes for lunch this year, as opposed to 30 minutes last year.
Students are required to take a half cup of fruit or vegetables with their lunch selection. In the past, the fruit came in a prepared cup. But this year students will be able to scoop up their own fruit selection like they have been able to do with vegetables.
There’s also a spice bar.
“Any way we can make it more appealing, we’re trying to do anything we can,” Jones said. “We want kids to eat.”
Students will also have several lunches to choose from. They can choose from the main meal; a substitute meal that changes daily; a pizza station that includes pizza, bread sticks or calzones; chef salads that come with ham, turkey or chicken; and sub sandwiches. There’s also the fruit parfait and vegetable bar, plus a long ala carte list of items for an extra fee.
Student lunch prices are the same as last year – $2.25 for elementary students and $2.50 for high school students. Extra milk is 40 cents, and reduced-price lunches are 40 cents.
Jones said that since around 57 percent of Hillsboro students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the school is considering a summer food program next year. She said nothing has been decided yet, but if it is approved, rather than having a central location where kids could pick up a free summer lunch, there would be a food truck that would visit several locations.
Jones has a staff of 16, including herself. There are eight food service employees at the high school/middle school and seven at the elementary, including a head cook at each location. They serve an average of 800 lunches a day at the high school, and range from 690 to 750 at the elementary. But it’s reversed for breakfast when they serve about 600 students at the elementary and 400 at the high school/middle school.
“Which is why we’re implementing the grab-and-go at the high school/middle school first,” Jones said.
Through a grant the school obtained last year, qualifying students on Fridays can also pick up meals that will last the entire weekend. Jones said 89 elementary students were involved in that program last year.
A 1998 Hillsboro graduate, Jones has an associate of business degree in culinary arts from Cincinnati State. She introduced several new lunch options last year and said that participation has increased 6 percent since that time. One thing she has her staff do occasionally is fix something new, then let the kids try it for free. If they seem to like it, it can become another option; and if not, she tries something else.
“Kids like that because they feel like they’re getting a say; and they will come back and tell you if they like it or not,” Jones said. “I think it’s good to see kids try new things.”
Jones worked at the four-star Cincinnati Marriott NE, Snow Hill, in long-term care, and at Edgewood Manor before returning to the Hillsboro City Schools.
“I saw what my daughter ate, and it’s just something I kind of always wanted to do – come back to the community and give back in some way,” Jones said. “I think this is one of the best ways I can do that – feeding our kids.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.