Montgomery County Public Schools skated by with a passing grade for its lunch service in a food report released over the weekend by a coalition of watchdog groups.
Healthy School Food Maryland gave MCPS a “C” and ranked it No. 14 out of 24 public school systems in the state. The report considered transparency, vending machine offerings, water availability, sugar and chemicals in food, menu variety and a range of other factors.
Howard County topped the scorecard, followed by Carroll and Frederick counties, while Allegany, Garrett and Worcester counties placed at the bottom.
“We definitely would like to see more scratch cooking in Montgomery County, and we would like to see more salad bars, at a minimum, in all of the secondary schools,” R. Lindsey Parsons, executive director of Real Food for Kids Montgomery, said.
The group of parents and other community members pushes for nutrition and wellness in Montgomery County schools.
At the same time, she praised MCPS for leading the charge to eliminate food dyes and other chemicals from food served in its schools.
Parsons helped write the report by Healthy School Food Maryland, a partnership of 20 local, statewide and national organizations and businesses advocating for higher-quality school food. The 2016 scorecard was the first prepared by the coalition, but Parsons said she’d like to publish it annually.
Marla Caplon, the school system’s food and nutrition services director, noted that MCPS is testing a program to offer a water bottle to each elementary-age student who eats a meal at school. MCPS makes its school menus available in six languages and cooks taco meat, sauces, macaroni and cheese and other items from scratch.
The district also provides salad every day in secondary schools.
“We still serve chicken nuggets, but they’re whole-grain breaded, and they’re not fried; they’re baked,” she said.
Caplon said she didn’t think the scorecard gave enough credit to MCPS for its work to serve up more than 100,000 healthy, nourishing meals each day at the system’s 204 schools.
“We do our best to exceed the needs of our students, recognizing that at the end of the day, we have to serve products students will eat,” Caplon said.
The report’s results will be distributed to school superintendents and food service directors, and the coalition might also craft a list of recommendations for school districts that want to improve their grades, Parsons said.