Nov. 3, 2017

Bus Stop Cafe

DELIVERING MEALS ON WHEELS — The addition of The Bus Stop Cafe, IPS’ new food truck, has helped the district increase the number of free meals (breakfast and lunch) it provides to students throughout the year. Below, Dena Bond, director of the IPS Food Service Department, and Steven Gudorf, operations manager of the Food Service Department, take great pride in being able to serve IPS students healthy and delicious meals. 

Many studies show that children who are hungry or malnourished have a hard time learning.

Indianapolis Public Schools acts on the knowledge that ample food and good nutrition contribute to academic success by providing three balanced meals a day to students at no cost, some of whom might otherwise have little else to eat on school days.

Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by first lady Michelle Obama in 2010, IPS began serving meals under the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. 

Dean Bond and Steve Gudorff

CEP allows schools in low-income areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students without collecting household income data to determine free or reduced meal eligibility. It also eliminates the stigma and shame that often leads children to refuse subsidized meals — and go hungry — rather than let their peers find out that their families are poor or need assistance.

“IPS chose to implement CEP because providing nutritious meals to all students is our number one priority,” said Dena Bond, director of IPS Food Service Department. “A child’s access to healthy foods shouldn’t be determined by their parents’ income.”

The inclusive approach and extended food options at IPS are in glaring contrast to the often embarrassing lunchroom experiences suffered by children in other school districts, where students are shamed in front of their classmates by having their hands stamped or their meals confiscated when parents have unpaid or overdrawn lunch accounts.

Last year, IPS served a total of 6,931,443 free lunches and breakfasts. IPS also offers fresh fruit or vegetable snacks in all of its schools; afterschool snacks in 36 schools; supper in three schools; and vegetable bars as an additional offering at lunch in 57 schools. Students in Grades 9-12 are offered additional choices.

IPS’ offerings provide a balance of whole grains, lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products that students can combine to create a customized meal. “We continue to evolve our menus via student tastings and surveys, as well as keeping up with industry trends,” said Bond.

New menu options for the 2017-18 school year include unexpected entrees and sides not typically seen on a school lunch menu. Entrees include a Chicken and Cheddar Burrito Bowl, Honey-Siracha Boneless Wings, and Chicken Teriyaki Bowls. New side items include “carrot shakers” with tri-color carrots and seasoning packets; muffins; fresh fruit; and a vegetable bar, complete with fresh, locally grown veggies.

“A common misconception of school meal programs is that government regulations do not align with students’ tastes,” said Bond. “Our menu overhaul in 2017 included new foods that matched flavors and textures students enjoy with the nutrition they need.”

According to Sean Patrick Corcoran, an associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University’s School of Culture, Education and Human Development, better quality food leads to better school performance. “Students who eat regular, healthy meals are less likely to be tired, are more attentive in class, and retain more information,” he said.

IPS also offers free meals during school breaks and on inclement-weather days, distributing many of its meals via its new food bus, the IPS Bus Stop Café.

During the district’s recent two-week fall break in October, the Food Service team served 6,344 free meals to children — with the food bus serving 1,174 of those meals.

“The purpose of the food bus is two-fold; as a special lunch for students, and as an outreach to serve children in the community during school breaks,” said Bond. “We have found that even though we have many schools open for meal service during breaks, lack of transportation can be a barrier for some students to receive much needed meals. Bringing the bus into their communities increases participation when it might not be possible for them to come to us.”

The menu on the food bus varies every day. The bus is equipped with cooking utensils and a grill, and is also loaded with packed items such as chips, fresh fruit, milk and cheese sticks. 

Schools are able to participate in CEP for a period of four years; however, when a district has large shifts in school populations (i.e. new schools, new grade configurations, boundary changes), a new agreement must be submitted. IPS’ current CEP agreement is valid through the 2019-2020 school year.