Frequently Asked Questions
- How do I know that school meals are healthy?
- What about ala carte purchases?
- Is food prepared in a safe manner?
- What happens if my child forgets lunch money?
- What if my child is allergic to certain foods?
- How do I put money on my child's account?
- How is confidentiality maintained?
- Can I find out how often my child buys a snack?
1. How do I know that school meals are healthy?
ACPS school meals are planned by a registered dietitian, and by law must meet federal regulations for nutrient content. Breakfasts must be planned to provide 1/4 of the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) and lunches are planned to meet 1/3 of the dietary allowances by age group. A nutrition analysis is computed from a USDA approved computer program, Nutrikids, and includes: cholesterol, sodium, fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, protein, carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat and calories. Meals must contain no more than 30% calories from fat, and no more than 10% of calories from saturated fat averaged over a week of menus. Our menus reflect current science and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Healthier US Schools Challenge Gold Standard is used as a guide to ensure our focus on whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lower fat foods.
Research from Eastern Michigan University indicates that "children who eat school meals consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy items than children who do not eat school meals."
Our own school based analysis showed that meals brought from home did not provide the nutrient rich meal that school meals do. Too often there were more snacks than food of substance such as fruits and vegetables.
In other research, milk was included in 87% of school lunches and only 7% of those from home. Home meals usually contained a sandwich and three times more snack foods.
School meals play a major role in keeping children healthy.
2. What about ala carte purchases?
Every ala carte item sold in schools must meet federal and Virginia standards for foods of minimal nutritional value. At least 5% of one specific nutrient per serving must be met. The nutrients are protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, calcium and iron. Items are offered as supplements to meals purchased or brought from home. Items offered include 100% Very Fine 12 ounce juice (secondary only) 100% Capri Sun 6 ounce juice (elementary only), bottled water, reduced fat popcorn, pretzels, baked chips (secondary only), reduced fat ice cream, graham snacks, and reduced fat cookies. Elementary students are allowed to purchase only 1 snack and a drink per day with their meal. Parents may control the purchase of snacks by sending a written note or email to the school nutrition manager or by indicating in the memo section of the check each time.
3. Is food prepared in a safe manner?
Absolutely! Every school nutrition manager must have a current Alexandria City Sanitation Certification. This is obtained after taking a 10 hour course and passing a national exam. Many of our school nutrition assistants have also passed the exam. In addition, school nutrition services staff attend sanitation and food safety workshops every year. Managers do a self inspection of the kitchen using the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) method. This system allows managers to monitor food at various stages (critical control points) to ensure safety. The Alexandria City Health Department performs at least 2 unscheduled inspections per year of each kitchen. Any documented violations are corrected as soon as possible. Finally, the school nutrition administrative staff performs inspections weekly, checking that standard operating procedures are in use.
4. What happens if my child forgets lunch money?
Federal regulations prohibit lunch charges. The principal has established procedures to ensure that a child does not go without a meal. A cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, served with milk is a common substitute. The school office will collect money to pay for whatever is served. Middle schools have principal funds-students who forget go to an administrator on duty in the cafeteria and have them sign for the meal. Parents are expected to repay these limited funds. At T.C. Williams, students are held accountable for keeping their accounts current.
There is an option to obtain e-mail alerts when your child's balance falls below an amount you designate. You can set this up online at ParentOnline.Net.
5. What if my child is allergic to certain foods?
School Nutrition Services maintains a file of labels for each food on our menus. Parents should be aware, however, that manufacturers can change ingredients without informing end users. Parents are welcome to call for an appointment and one of our registered dietitians will meet with them. When the school nutrition manager is aware of an allergy, she is able to write one or two words that will pop up on the computer screen when the child puts in the pin number ( such as No Peanuts). The cafeteria staff tries to be vigilant with children, but it is ultimately the parent's responsibility to educate the child about what foods should be avoided.
6. How do I put money on my child's account?
Parents are encouraged to open an account for their child(ren). Money may be placed on the account in three ways: Write a check to (school name) School Nutrition Services. The student can then bring the check or cash to the school nutrition manager. One check may be written for multiple students who are in the same school. List the students in the memo section of the check. Please use the official name of the student. Managers and staff work very hard to learn children's names, but with hundreds of children each day it is difficult when parents write nicknames on the check or envelope. Not knowing the name delays funds being deposited to the account.
A third way is to place money in a prepaid online account. Log onto ParentOnline.net and you will be provided instructions. There is a small surcharge for this service that goes to the software provider.
7. How is confidentiality maintained?
Each child has an individual PIN number assigned to them when they enroll in school. The number remains the same throughout enrollment in ACPS. Students or parents may contact the school nutrition manager to obtain the PIN number. School nutrition staff stress to children that it is a private number not to be shared. When a child enters the PIN, the cashier does not know whether the child receives free or reduced meal benefits. If a child purchases ala carte items, the amount of the purchase will show on the cashier screen. Federal law prohibits sharing information concerning the free or reduced status of children. It is up to the parent or guardian to provide a copy of the eligibility letter to the appropriate person in order to receive reduced fees for additional services such as eye glasses, soccer scholarships, etc. The parent or guardian should keep this letter for the year.
8. Can I find out how often my child buys a snack?
A parent may request a detailed report for their child that will indicate the date that a meal was rung in at the register, and if the child bought a snack. The report will only show transactions that are done when a child keys in the pin number. So, if a child brings money and doesn't put in the pin, it is a cash sale with no name attached, and won't be captured on the report.