NORTH SMITHFIELD â€”The school department's hiring of a new food service provider, Aramark School Nutrition Services, has brought many changes to the school breakfast and lunch program, including a new menu with healthier food options and, as of this week, a new computerized money and meal count system to help ease the payment process for parents and students.
Launched Thursday, the NutriKids online pre-payment system not only allows parents to make secure payments to their childrenâ€™s lunch accounts, but also offers other benefits including increased accountability when dealing with the school lunch program.
By using the system, parents can watch what their children eat, or put restrictions on how much money they use a day.
The computerized NutriKids Portal allows parents to make payments to their childrenâ€™s lunch account through the use of an existing PayPal account or by credit card. Whether parents choose to make payments through the online system or continue with traditional cash or check payment, the NutriKids Portal allows parents to see the balance of a childâ€™s account at any time, including all deposits and withdrawals. This essentially enables the NutriKids Portal to act as a receipt system.
The NutriKids Portal is a tool to ensure there is always money in a childâ€™s account. By setting up a NutriKids Portal account, parents can choose to have â€ślow balance remindersâ€ť sent by email once their childrenâ€™s accounts reach a certain point.
The program was launched to improve the level of service to the parents and students in North Smithfield; help schools better manage student payments and meal eligibility; simplify cash handling and the pre-payment process; and eliminate the need for students to carry cash to school every day.
"We are confident that the NutriKids online system will greatly enhance the communication between parents and the food service department and will solve many of the previous years," said School Superintendent Stephen Lindberg.
The School Committee voted in the spring to bring in Aramark, essentially moving from an in-house school lunch program to an outside service. That move has resulted in menu changes that reflect more healthier foods in an effort to satisfy Rhode Island Nutrition Require-ments mandated by the state Board of Regents.
As part of its Rhode Island statewide Food Service contract, Aramark incorporates fresh, local fruits and vegetables into its school nutrition program when weather and supply permit. The company partnered with many Rhode Island farms last year, including Schartner Farms in Exeter, Hill Orchards in Johnston, Ferolbink and Nonquit Farms in Tiverton, and Knight Farm in Smithfield.
Students seemed to have embraced the changes as average daily reimbursable meals have increased more than 44 percent for the month October, according to school officials.
Last month, the school celebrated National School Lunch Week, October 10-14, by promoting locally sourced fruits and vegetables and hosting events that engaged students in making healthy food choices.
"We are extremely excited to be here and look forward to serving the school district and the children," said Jessica Racicot, chef manager. "We will be providing students with nutritious and healthy menu choices, exciting and colorful new looks in the cafeterias, and nutritional educational messaging to encourage healthy eating and a well-balanced lifestyle."