NJ superintendent vows change after stomach-turning lunch meals go viral

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer is promising to provide better meals after stomach-turning images of showed what was being served to students for lunch.

Shafer and members of the Board of Education spoke about changes to the district's food services Thursday, vowing change.

"When I saw those pictures, I said it was unacceptable," Shafer said. "I also said, 'I wouldn't eat it,' and if I'm not going to eat it, neither are my kids going to eat it."

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There was a significant backlash after the photos of unappetizing school lunches went viral last week.

Cafeteria staff have now started retraining.

"If, in fact, you overcook something, we're not serving it," Shafer said. "We're going to do it again."

That's a relief for Sandra Johnson, whose kids go to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, one of four schools in the district with lunch issues.

"That is a very good thing," she said. "My kids actually wish I was the school lunch lady, because it's horrible. What they're giving to the kids, the guys in prison eat better than that. It's unacceptable."

The annual budget in Paterson is $18.5 million for food and the labor, a number that's astounding to grandmother Francisca Nunez, who couldn't even figure out what was on the viral lunch tray.

"Disgusting, deplorable," she said. "With millions of dollars that are coming into the city of Paterson, I think you should do better."

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While schools were closed for 18 months during the pandemic. the district still served lunch, but those meals were prepackaged and not prepared on site.

Now that schools are back up and running, district leaders say some new employees need training, and older staff members need a refresher.

"It shows that they're making steps, they see our concerns," mom Nicole Farrar said. "So we'll see."

Families and students will be surveyed in the next two weeks about what they'd like to see on the menu.

"We're looking at the products and we're looking at the menu," Shafer said. "Because we want to serve meals to kids that they like, that they're going to enjoy, and looks good, so it's appetizing."

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