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School Lunch; Family Style
Thursday, February 11, 2016 3:35 PM

Will communal lunch for elementary school students ever come to SFUSD? The idea of small groups of younger students (in pint sized chef’s attire) serving each other lunch from family style bowls under the watchful eye of an adult, is inspired by the school lunch program in Japan. It also appears as one of the suggested “innovations” for SFUSD to adopt as part of their Future Dining Experience, although even in the US, the idea is not new.
Communal lunch has already been implemented in some US schools; the highest profile are a group of mostly private and charter schools in the Philadelphia area. Eatiquette, brainchild of Philadelphia’s Chef Marc Vetri, began in 2012 and uses a communal lunch model one day a week in their 8 participating schools.
Webster Elementary School in Minneapolis is also using the communal lunch model, according to this article in Food Management magazine.
The biggest stumbling block for schools wanting to use the communal, or “family style” service for meals, as opposed to the traditional cafeteria lunch line, is labor.
Family style meal service requires what USDA regulations call a “supervising adult” at each table to offer the full serving of each food item to each child, and later to “encourage additional portions and selections as appropriate” for those students who took just a small taste the first time around.
Because of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, another rule is “the adult supervisor must ensure that each student selects at least a ½ cup of fruit or vegetable or a combination of both during the course of a family style meal service.”
In other words, there would need to be enough adults in the cafeteria to make sure that every single child took the proper amount of food, and to actively encourage those who didn’t to take more. For SFUSD’s more than 75 elementary schools, this increased labor could potentially involve hundreds of new workers in addition to the 250 already employed districtwide; the cost of that would be astronomical.
But Minneapolis Public Schools’ (MPS) Webster Elementary has solved this problem brilliantly. The refurbished school building reopened in September 2015 after being closed for ten years; it currently enrolls 96 children in K-2, with plans to add a grade each of the next 3 years.
Food Management magazine explains the brilliant part: