Wilmington School Lunches Aren’t What They Used To Be: Food Services Dept. Touts Accomplishments

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Schools Food Services Manager Mary Palen, now in her 11th year with the district, discussed her department’s accomplishments at a recent Wilmington School Committee Meeting.

Offers Fun-Filled Promotions For Students

Palen conducted promotions at all schools, including Gobble Gobble Day, where all administrators served turkey dinners to students and staff the week prior to Thanksgiving.  Some popular themed lunches at the elementary schools included Cupid Cafe, Leprechaun Lunch, and Bunny Bistro.  Palen’s staff develop their menu with holidays and significant events in mind, such as Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, and the Super Bowl. Palen even shucks corn with students every fall in as an educational and fun activity.

Offers a Variety of Fresh Fruit, Fresh Vegetables and Whole Grain Foods

While providing an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain, and meeting all state and federal nutritional regulations, Palen and her staff has introduced several new popular menu items, including BBQ chicken pizza; Cafe Wildcat BBQ Chicken Sandwich; chicken, broccoli and ziti, and Chipotle Seasoned Burritos.  The burritos came directly from discussions with students to receive input on menu likes and dislikes.  Palen was able to duplicate Chipotle’s menu so well that it’s now one of the district’s biggest selling days.  Palen noted that breakfast is now being served daily at the Middle School.

Provides Appropriate And Required Staff Training

Palen provided training for serv-safe certification to all necessary staff.  She organized training for staff related to ethics, reimbursable lunches, right-to know, and safety.  Palen provided training for all managers and supervisors regarding allergies.  She a;sp conduced monthly manager meetings.  Palen served on several committees, including the district’s Wellness Policy Committee, district’s School Health Advisory Committee, and the Town Safety Committee.

Continues To Be Financially Solid And Self-Sustaining

The Food Services Department purchased approximately $37,000 worth of capital equipment during the school year, including a reach-in refrigerators at the Middle School and Woburn Street, a reach-in freezer at the North, a steamer at the West, a vending machine at the High School, and small wares for all the schools.

Palen has budgeted an additional $51,200 worth of capital equipment for the upcoming school year, including an oven, dish machine and two cafeteria tables at the Shawsheen; a compressor at the North; a chest freezer at the Middle School; and reach-in freezers at the Shawsheen and West.  An additional $30,000 will be spent on miscellaneous repairs and necessary maintenance.

Completed Successful State Review

A review from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was successfully completed. The review included two days of observation at two schools and reviewing documentation, including low income applications, verification of these applications, menus, production records, financial reports, and written policies.

School Committee Reaction

“You do a great job in a heavily regulated situation,” said School Committee Vice Chair Julie Broussard. “Seeing those pictures, hot lunch has come a long way.  The only thing that looks the same way are the milk cartons.”

“Thank you for providing consistency across the district,” offered Committee member Jennifer Bryson.  “You’re trying to equally distribute things.  As parents, we really do appreciate it.”

“You obviously put 110% of yourself into this job and we certainly appreciate that,” added Chair Steve Bjork.

Follow Mary On Twitter

Palen shares menu updates, food photos, and department updates on her Twitter account — @cafewildcat.

“I’ve started tweeting information.  I don’t have too many Twitter followers yet, so I’d be happy if people could promote my Twitter. It’s really fun,” said Palen.

Palen also thanked her employees during her presentation, noting that her “staff is the best staff in the whole world, honest to goodness…. We like to have fun in food services.”

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