It hasn’t even been a full year since Barbara Bonnell stepped in as Nutrition Director for RSU 18 and she has already made a huge difference. From menu changes to new ways of dealing with outstanding debt, Bonnell is having a positive impact across the district.
One of Bonnell’s top priorities since the beginning has been to improve food choices by offering more home-cooked meals. The nutrition program has made a lot of changes to the menu selections for breakfast and lunch and has brought in more options that appeal to busy staff members. “We have revamped our “grab n go” salads at the middle school and high school,” said Bonnell, “and we have added the deli sandwich bar (similar to subway) so we can make sandwiches with what student and staff prefer.”
The improvement in the food choices has led to a higher number of students and staff coming in for both lunch and breakfast. The higher participation rates also mean less waste. Bonnelle says she’s heard a lot of comments from students about how great the food is. “It’s a great feeling,” she said. “I think we have made huge strides in our program with the quality of food.”
Bonnell has also been working hard to address some very old outstanding debt. When she took the Nutrition Director position there was roughly $14,000 in uncollectable debt from unpaid lunch accounts. Bonnell created the Angel Fund as one of the strategies to clear this debt. The ultimate goal is to use any future positive balance to help students who have difficulties paying their accounts. “Students that qualify for reduced-price meals seem to be the accounts that struggle,” said Bonnell. “It’s a fine line between the reduced category and the free category.”
Bonnelle hopes to keep the forward momentum. The nutrition program’s next project is to add theme days to the menu. They are hoping to have their first one in January, complete with costumes, music, and decorations. Bonnell says these are usually a big hit and also provide students with the opportunity to expand their palates and learn about other ethnicities and the foods they eat.