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More Ashland students eating in cafeterias

Revenues at the Ashland School District's cafeterias are up since the district ended its contract with Sodexo and began running its own food service program this academic year.

The district's cafeterias served 462 more lunches during the first two weeks of this school year than during the same period last year, said Gema Soto, district food service director. That means more revenue for the district, because food purchasing and labor costs have remained constant or declined, but exact revenue numbers won't be available until the end of the month, she said.

"I'm pretty encouraged with the numbers I'm seeing," she said. "What's great is overall, throughout the district, we didn't lose any meals over last year, and it's great to see that the initial support for the change in the program is there."

Soto said she hopes to bring the district's cafeteria program into the black this year. The Sodexo program cost the district about $78,000 last academic year.

"My goal is to break even," Soto said. "I know we can do better than Sodexo, but a lot depends on how fast we can settle the menu."

Food service workers are trying out new menu items, reining in portion sizes and making more lunches from scratch, she said. Soto hopes to work closely with the Rogue Valley Farm to School program and to use locally made products when possible.

She already has begun using organic vegetables from Ashland Middle School's garden in lunches at the school, she said.

"There are a lot more healthy food choices, instead of pizza and hamburgers every day," Soto said. "We're still doing some pizza, but we're making it with 51 percent whole grain."

All cafeterias in the district served more lunches during the first two weeks of the school year compared with the same period last year, except the middle school, she said.

Ashland High School went from serving 1,174 lunches to serving 1,294 lunches and the elementary schools jumped from 3,105 lunches to 3,525 lunches. The middle school had a slight drop, feeding 2,291 students lunch during the first two weeks of last year and 2,213 during the same period this year.

High school students said they have noticed the cafeteria has been more crowded this year.

Travis Ferguson, 17, who was eating a quesadilla in the cafeteria last week, said he liked the new food.

"I think it's pretty good," he said. "The first day, I was like, 'Oh, it's different and the lines are pretty huge,' but so far I think it's good. This quesadilla is kind of like one I would make at home."

Bria Payne, 15, and her sister, Noori, 13, said they have been testing out the new food.

"We're just kind of seeing how this works," said Bria, who was eating chili made from scratch in the cafeteria. "I think it tastes pretty good, but I'm not too picky."

Noori, who was munching on a quesadilla, said she was skeptical of the food.

"Most cafeteria food is doubtful in my opinion," she said, "but it's convenient, so I'll probably come here sometimes."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter with the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.