Schools to try healthy lunch kiosks

LAFAYETTE Salads, fresh fruit and hot lunch meals could soon be only a touch of a keypad away from hungry high schoolers.

The Lafayette Parish School System plans to install two vending machines equipped to dispense healthy school meals to students as soon as January, said Renée Sherville, district child nutrition services supervisor.

“It’s another way of trying to provide meals to the students who want to eat with us but according to time constraints or location don’t,” she said. “It makes it more accessible to them. Some kids don’t even go to the cafeteria because they know they can’t get in. We’re looking at an alternative means to get the kids served.”

Due to large student populations, many schools in the district schedule several lunch shifts, some beginning at 10:30 a.m. and continuing after 1 p.m.

The district loses “a lot of meal participation” due to the logistical issues, Sherville told board members at a retreat held Oct. 27. Sherville briefed board members on food service operations and the plan to offer the vending option to students

“It’s really to diversify how we can serve the students in that short period of time that they have for meal service,” she told board members.

Sherville said one of the machines will be installed at N.P. Moss Preparatory School and the location of the second is undecided, Sherville said. The machines can stock about 100 meals.

No money is exchanged at the meal vending machine. Students enter their ID code, which is linked to their meal account, Sherville said.

The vending method is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch program and the machines will only provide healthy meal options from milk and fruit to sandwiches, salads and whole meals, Sherville said.

In the coming weeks, food service staff will begin devising packaging and ideal menu items to stock the machines, Sherville said. The school system purchased the machines for about $23,000 each in 2010 and also purchased commercial microwaves for students to heat items purchased, she said. Some machines might be stocked with cold items — such as salads — depending upon power outlet locations and availability at schools, she said.

An additional two vending machines could be purchased in 2013, she said.

A goal of the child nutrition services department is to add the vending machines to each of the high school campuses, Sherville said.