Snow Day MCPS Menu Change Irks ‘Real Food’ Group

A double serving of double stuffed pizza drove one group pushing for healthy food in school cafeterias to sharply criticize MCPS last week.

Real Food for Kids-Montgomery, a project of a local sustainable food nonprofit, tweeted a screen capture of the modified elementary school menu for last week:

Because of the snow day on Friday, Jan. 3, regular food deliveries for the Monday, Jan. 6 school day weren’t able to come in.

Marla Caplon, director of MCPS Food and Nutrition Services, said food is delivered to elementary schools and refrigerated on the school day before that item is scheduled on the menu. When school buildings are closed because of weather, it means Caplon and her team must coordinate an emergency menu that typically uses the previous day’s scheduled item.

The modified MCPS elementary school menu for last week, via Real Food for Kids-MontgomeryThat’s how last week’s elementary school menu came to include a Monday and Friday double stuffed pizza day, plus a personal pizza option on Wednesday.

Caplon and other MCPS officials also said Real Food’s characterization of double stuffed pizza as “fast food” is wrong. MCPS lists the item as having fewer than 300 calories.

“The kids are fine with it. If we take off Friday pizza, we get major criticism from the community, because Friday is always pizza day,” Caplon said. “It’s a whole-grain product that’s low fat. In this case, it was the best way to re-arrange menu planning on a snow day.”

MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig said calling the menu fast food is inaccurate.

“Planning menus for 90,000-100,000 students is very difficult and takes a tremendous amount of planning and, at times, flexibility,” Tofig wrote in an email. “While we appreciate the input from the community, we have to always balance that with the resources we have and the need to note be wasteful.”

Lindsey Parsons, co-director of Real Food, said buying processed food with less fat and salt “doesn’t make it substantially more healthy.”

“It just makes it dry and tasteless,” said Parsons, whose group is pushing to get additives out of school menu items and increase the nutrient content of the meals. “What makes processed foods less healthy is the removal or loss of nutrients through time. What we and our members would like to see in MCPS is fresh, real food prepared as close to the point of consumption as possible.”

Parsons pointed to the blueberry breads MCPS serves in elementary schools as an example.

Real Food took the lead in advocating that MCPS drop pink flavored milk, something Caplon’s division did starting in January.

Caplon said Monday she felt the group’s pizza complaints were unfair and not indicative of a willing partner in improving school lunch menus.

“I resent them talking about it being junk food or fast food,” Caplon said.

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