It is not often someone can get more options for less money, but Sauk Centre Public Schools seems to have achieved that as it begins the school year with a new food service. 

SCPS has switched to a four-year contract with Elior/A’viands, and thanks to new options such as the free breakfast bar, students are noticing the difference as soon as they come in the door.

“Our mission starts with the simple idea that every child deserves a great meal,” said Jonathan Barnes, A’viands district manager, in a letter to Sauk Centre families. “We understand that when students don’t get food that fuels their bodies and minds, their learning and future can suffer. Our purpose is to strengthen the connections between students and great meals to fuel their education and future success by making mealtime the best part of their day.”

The SCPS board approved the Elior/A’viands contract during their June 21 meeting. The Elior/A’viands bid was the lowest at $497,066.12; the two other bids were Done Right Food at $527,677.97 and Taher at $538,709.22. Taher was SCPS’s previous food service provider.

The SCPS food service also has a new director: Colleen Miller, who has 17 years of experience in the SCPS food service. While the school year is young, the new food service has left a favorable impression on her and many others in the school.

“In just two days, I have heard very good compliments from the staff, from the kids and from my own daughter,” Miller said.

One of the newest changes is the three breakfast bars at the school entrances. Students coming in at the beginning of the school day can grab free food items such as muffins, pastries, cheese sticks, juice and fruit; there are also warm items, including sausage and cheese bagels, breakfast burritos and pancakes on a stick. A coffee bar will be coming soon, offering a variety of coffees along with slushies and smoothies.

At lunch, middle and high school students have about five to seven options available. On Sept. 2, the main entrée was build-a-burger, and other entrées included homemade pizza, hot dogs with tater tots and cold deli sandwiches on hoagies. Elementary students have about three options, such as Sept. 2’s cheese pizza, hoagie sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese and string cheese, yogurt and milk on the side.

“The biggest thing is all the variations or the different kinds of foods, the different choices kids have,” Miller said. “You obviously still have to have all of your basic meal components and everything, but they just have more to choose from.”

Both breakfast and lunch are free for the school year thanks to a United States Department of Agriculture program. However, if students want extras like additional entrées, they have to pay for them out of their lunch accounts. Extras are not available at the elementary level.

The SCPS food service has also cut down on food waste this year. In previous years, all of the food would be made ahead of time and placed in a warmer; now, the cooks make food in batches based on how many students they are expecting.

“We have seventh and eighth graders coming in the last line,” Miller said. “We know about how many kids that is, and so we make what we figure they will eat, so there really isn’t much waste at all.”

SCPS is getting more food freight, but instead of receiving deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays, they only arrive on Tuesdays.

As the program takes off, Miller is glad to see the faces of the students enjoying the new options, particularly those at the breakfast bar.

“Both (students and staff) love the variety,” Miller said. “Of course, they love that it’s free, and they like that we’re set up right in front of the doors so they can come right in before they go to their locker. It is going very well.”