When classes resume at District 91 schools later this month, students will be dining on new and improved fare for breakfast and lunch, following the school board’s unanimous decision last week to approve a food vendor’s $189,141 one-year contract.

Berkeley-based Preferred Meal Systems, Inc., a national food vending company, will begin serving up breakfast and lunch at all four D91 schools when classes start on Aug. 23. D91 said it is part of an initiative to offer kids healthier meals at a reduced rate to the district.

“Healthy is the first consideration,” said Superintendent Lou Cavallo, recently.

Preferred Meals notes on its website that its aim is to “enforce healthier living while maintaining tasty meal options.” Assistant Superintendent Ed Brophy said the one-year contract with Preferred Meals saves the district around $18,000 annually compared to its previous vendor agreement. The deal ends a two-decades-old agreement D91 had with its previous food vendor.

The agreement with Preferred Meal brings with it changes to D91’s previous food-service program. Portion sizes will now vary based on students’ age and nutritional needs. The breakfast menu now has hot and cold items – before, all of the food was chilled – and it will also be served at Forest Park Middle School, where it wasn’t previously available. Milk will be served with all the meals.

The board and D91 officials did not specify what Preferred Meal will serve, but the vendor lists some of the fare on its website. It includes fresh organic produce, locally baked goods, and whole grain pizzas, pastas, rice and bread. The district’s schools do not have kitchens, though, so the food will be brought onsite by the vendor.

D91 and Preferred Meal are currently developing menus, Brophy said in an email. He added that once the menus are finished, Preferred Meal would also supply nutritional information, which was not available at press time. On Monday, a Preferred Meal representative said he would try to compile the information, but the Review did not receive it by deadline, on Tuesday afternoon.

 “The problem is: If you give [students] a healthy choice will they take it?” said Board member Mary Winn Connor as she considered her vote. 

Cavallo pointed out that most of the parents, children and families who tried the food at a tasting last month enjoyed it.

Preferred Meals was one of four vendors who attended a pre-bid meeting in June to express interest in serving the district; however, it was the only vendor who participated in the aforementioned food tasting.

Two vendors declined to participate because they did not meet the district criteria, and D91 excluded the other for that reason. The excluded vendor, Chicago-based Gourmet Gorilla, did not have an existing contract with two other school districts, something D91 requires based on an Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) rule. 

Board Member Sean Blaylock made note of this at the meeting when he said that, to an extent, Preferred Meal was being considered “by default.”

Cavallo conceded that the two-contract rule stymied any new companies from entering the business because previous contracts are a mandate for any new business.

“How do you open up the market if you need a contract?” Cavallo wondered.

In the end, though, the “ayes” were unanimous. The $189,141 contract carries with it a renewal option.