Monday, April 11, 2011

No More "Offer Versus Serve"

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Some weeks ago the kitchen manager at my daughter's elementary school informed us that daughter would no longer be allowed to decline the milk at mealtime even though she is lactose intolerant. Consequently, she would just throw the milk in the trash.

Up to that point D.C. Public Schools had practiced something called "offer versus serve." Under USDA rules [PDF], schools must give high school students the option of declining one of the four items offered for breakfast, or two of the five items offered for lunch. Offer versus serve is optional in elementary schools, but most school districts--including D.C.--use it.

Until recently, that is. It really bothered me to watch my daughter and other kids routinely toss perfectly good food like unopened cartons of milk or uneaten pieces of fruit directly into the trash. But despite weeks of pestering the food services personnel, I could not get anyone to tell me why the policy had been changed.

Then I got the word through a back channel: offer versus serve had been eliminated in D.C. elementary schools to speed up the food lines.

Apparently, some school officials complained that allowing small children to choose which foods they wanted--or didn't want--on their trays took too long. At my daughter's school, for instance, 30 minutes is allotted for lunch. Usually, the last kids through the line have about 15 minutes to eat. But the lines in other schools are longer, meaning the kids only have a few minutes to actually eat their food after waiting to be served.

So that's the situation here in the District of Columbia: the trash cans fill up with good food so that children will have more time to eat their meals.

In my daughter's case, it means getting a phone call from a dietitian at Chartwells, the district's food service management company, telling us that lactose-free milk--at extra cost--has been ordered specially for her so that anytime she takes a school meal she will get a carton of that to throw away instead.

Turns out daughter just doesn't like milk--period--unless it's to pour over cereal.


  1. I can somewhat understand their choice to do away with the choices, but at the same time, wouldn't it just be better to narrow the choices instead. Say a hot option and a cold option for a main. That way the kids are still able to make a choice, but at the same time not every item on their tray was their decision. Still not ideal, but could cut down on time in line and throwing some things away.

    Also, at some of our local schools they offer juice or water to lactose-free kids. Maybe that will be an option in the future.

  2. Holy Cow -- their food costs are going to go through the ROOF!

  3. So messed up... just give kids the option of taking the milk and so much money will be saved.

    Simple answers but no one has the will

  4. At the DC elementary schools I've visited, the students do get to choose between a hot and cold menu option. And unfortunately the USDA does not allow substitution of milk for juice or water - they are not nutritionally equal.

    It is messed up, but the USDA's will is pretty tough to bend.

  5. If your child has a medical need for lactose free milk, they cannot charge you extra for the lactose free milk substitute in the NSLP or SBP.

    I have 14 campuses, we do Offer vs serve (OVS) at all but 2 campuses, our 3 yr old campus and a 4 and 5 yr old campus. And it is a big waste, however, the portion size is adjusted for those campuses. We serve larger portion sizes at locations were we have OVS because we know the student will not take as many items. If they only take 1 vegetable we want them to get a good serving of that vegetable. At the non-OVS school, the portion size is smaller and they get everything on the menu. Do to the menu planning patterns, some items do not change, such as the portion size of a grain/bread or milk.

    Donna Middaugh
    Director Student Nutrition
    Lufkin, Texas