Cafeteria food for students in the Sylvania school district is about to get an overhaul.
Joe Shamy, the new director of purchasing and food service, who oversees the operations of 12 kitchens, has been working with students and parents to revamp the menu and make sure more choices will be offered. With hopes of unveiling a new menu in the second semester of the year, he has also been reading up on new state and federal nutrition guidelines.
Mr. Shamy said Ohio Senate bill 210, also known as the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children Act, has been one of the driving forces of the menu changes.
"It basically governs everything we can do with food. We have to offer five food groups and if we offer those five food groups every day, we're safe," he said. The five are meat, a vegetable, fruit, milk, and grains. A challenge he runs into frequently is that the legislation is ever-evolving.
In trying to comply with the rules and please the students at the same time, he has to watch future menu items carefully.
"In menu development, you have to make sure it balances. You can't have a kid go through the line and get six pieces of pizza," Mr. Shamy said. "I become the good faith steward for both the schools and the kids, trying to meet their wants and needs."
One of the main complaints he has received from students is about a lack of choices. He said he received about 1,000 completed surveys as part of his efforts to revamp the menu. "My job is to find out what they want and give them what they need at the same time. That's what it's all about."
Because the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children Act includes provisions to help combat childhood obesity, Mr. Shamy also has to watch ingredient labels for things such as sodium content.
Also an instructor at Owens Community College, he said he is hoping to reach out to a few of his friends who are chefs to seek advice on how to make dishes more healthful.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "That's why I got into this business."
He acknowledged that making the menus more healthful probably will cost more.
Mr. Shamy said a "combination between the laws" and "the current economical conditions" is bound to make the process even more difficult.
"We had that drought this summer," he said. "Next year's food costs are going to be increased."
But Mr. Shamy said it will be worth it for the students. "It's more expensive to serve fresh fruits and vegetables. That's what we need to do."