‘Our job is not to make you full but to give a nourishing meal’
The primary aim of the Public School System’s Food & Nutrition Services is to produce well-nourished students at the end of their schooling and not necessarily to make them full come mealtime.
That’s one of the challenges that F&NS faces. A lot of people feel the need to eat until they are full but that’s not necessarily the purpose of the meal that students get in school.
“Our job is not to make you full. Our job is to feed you a nourishing meal. We want to see well-fed kids,” said program manager Dale Roberts.
The program feeds almost 10,000 children in the CNMI everyday. The meals must meets the dietary standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Roberts said they closely monitor the meals that they give to students and monitor vendors on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
Other challenges include having to substitute the planned meals in schools because of the lack of or unavailability of a particular fruit or vegetable, especially on Tinian.
An incident at the Tinian High School that occurred in August, during which students waited for 20 minutes for the food to get replenished and that smaller portions were served, was readily addressed, said Roberts.
“I’ve communicated with our monitor and vendor at Tinian High School. That particular day has been cited. We addressed the situation and the people involved. On that day, [the students being made to wait] for 20 minutes for their food was not an ongoing thing. …It was addressed,” said Roberts.
He added that the Tinian vendor makes a meal plan a week ahead of time.
“On that one particular day…the monitor [told me about] the incident…on the day it happened. I was sent photos and what they did. On that particular day when they ran horribly short, they started serving small portions of the side dishes but the entrees were still the same size,” said Roberts.
He said the amount of salad served was smaller because they wanted everyone to get something.
“We [PSS] didn’t pay because they [vendor] didn’t meet the requirements. Nobody wanted that to happen,” Roberts added.
According to him, the Tinian vendor sometimes face challenges in terms of supplies.
“Sometimes, some of their fruits are not good anymore when it arrives from Saipan. They (vendor) have a backup. Sandwiches are something that does store well. They do serve those once in a while because they run short on something. It happens and it’s not something we want. That meal that they serve is a reimbursable meal that meets the meal pattern.
“We don’t want to go with that route but we also don’t want the kids walking around without getting fed and we still feed them a meal that fits the meal pattern,” he added.
According to Roberts, Rota has the same situation but it helps that the vendor has a farm. He said the vendor on Rota knows shipping is a problem and gets her supplies from Guam because it’s closer.
“Tinian is in the middle. They sort of have to rely on Saipan,” he said.
Roberts said that he is open to talk to the board and PSS junior and senior high school representative Mariah Manuel Cruz about the quality issues with fruits and vegetables on Tinian.
“We keep our eye on Tinian because they do run into problems like when they run out of stuff or when the weather gets bad, then it is hard to ship stuff over,” Roberts said.