Area schools food services provider OPAA! makes menus accessible through an easy to use, interactive app.
WYANDOTTE – That question every student asks, “What's for lunch?” can now be answered with the touch of a button.
A new Nutrislice phone and computer application used by OPAA!, Wyandotte Public School’s food service and other area districts’ provider, makes school menus immediately and easily accessible.
Wyandotte Public Schools is one of the first to roll out the new menu app. The app gives daily menu options for the month, with accompanying color photos of each menu item, ingredients, nutritional information, and calories.
“That’s a big deal for us, especially for our elementary kids because they’re not always sure what it is when we tell them what it is, and if they don’t know exactly what it is they’re just not going to try it,” Wyandotte Superintendent Troy Gray said. “It’s a really cool deal for our kids. They can pull it up anytime. OPAA!’s been fantastic and it’s a blessing for us.”
In the past, parents have had to rely on colored paper copies of monthly menus to make it home with students or finding the menus on the school’s website.
“Half of them end up in the trash or on the floor, and they’re always wondering what’s going on for lunch,” Gray said. “This is going to be a better way.”
Gray and OPPA!’s Food Management Director Jessi Maple are hoping parents and caregivers will use the app to determine what food options are best for each student and help those with allergies avoid those menu items and plan accordingly.
“Another awesome thing about the app is for students with food allergies the app will let them know. So, if a student has a wheat or egg allergy the app puts a line through every menu item containing wheat or egg,” Gray said.
The app is available for all schools using OPAA! food services. Afton school district is currently the only district in Ottawa County not using OPAA! for student food management.
Parents will also soon be able to go directly to the app site to pay student lunch accounts as well, according to Maple.
“The app is available for both iPhones and Android phones,” she said. “You can go to your app store or on Googleplay and download the Nutrislice app, it’s free. After you download it, then you go in and pick your school.”
Each school can be typed into the search bar of the app leading to the school’s particular menus for the month.
“Once you pick the school district it will give you the option to pick elementary, middle school and high school monthly menus,” Maple said. “Every menu item you click on has every ingredient, nutritional facts and it also gives kids a place where they can rate the food.”
Students can use the app interactively to rate meals once they have tasted them through a five-star rating system allowing the staff to adjust the ingredients or find foods the students like and dislike.
“That’s a good thing. If we get several ‘ones’ on an item, that’s a flag to take that item off the menu,” Maple said.
Maple explained OPPA! provides a main menu item and then allows the director of each food site to choose alternatives, or second choices for students, giving each district some flexibility on menu choices.
The menu app also allows for updates if a menu item changes for any reason. The photos of menu items also incentivize students to try new foods.
“There’s also some accountability to each school because if they put something out that is sub standard and it doesn’t taste good or look like the photos, they’ll be held accountable for that,” Maple said.
Maple and her staff of seven began a successful brown bag breakfast program with OPAA! last year allowing students to grab a nutritious breakfast in a sack to encourage more students to eat breakfast. She recently completed a training workshop in Miami to share the idea and successes with other districts’ food staff.
“We were the only school in the entire state that was doing it,” she said.
A fruit smoothie bar and to-go items, and salad bars are other fun and delicious options the district will try this year.
The hope is more students will try school breakfast and lunch menu options by taking a look at the appealing photos on the new app and offering samplings of food items.
“Every once in awhile Jessi will go the high school and middle school commons area and go, ‘Try this,’” Gray said.
Paper copies of menus are also still available to parents or caregivers who don’t have access to a device for the app, according to Gray.
“We thought this was something cool that parents needed to know about,” Gray said. “We’re trying to step up and get better, Jessi does a great job. It’s about our kids, and it always has been. It was a good first year with OPAA! and our challenge is to keep that enthusiasm going. All the schools will love this app, and it’s free for us and our patrons.”
The app fits in the changing way technology has become part of daily lives. Gray said he has put notice of the app on Twitter and the district’s website and will be sending out an all-call notification.
The Wyandotte district has around 73 percent of students receiving free and reduced meals, making school food an important aspect of each student’s day for maximization of their scope of achievement by offering nutritious meals.
Students who have brought lunches or grabbed snacks in the past are eating more, and more of the school provided meals with OPAA’s food service, according to Maples and Gray, as well as more staff and faculty eating lunch in-house.
In a school district of 785 students, Gray says 550 to 600 students eat lunch daily. Another 350 to 400 students are now eating breakfast, doubling previous years’ numbers.
The app is available for all schools in Ottawa County using OPAA! food services including Fairland, Quapaw, Commerce, and Miami, but not all districts have implemented the app at this time, something Gary encourages.
Gray said OPAA!’s buying power allows more menu choices and better opportunities than he could afford before in the district’s budget.
“Last year was the first year ever, that I didn’t receive one complaint from a parent about the food. Not one,” Gray said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things from our board of education to our students and parents.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.