Our schools have been a powerhouse for keeping our children fed and nourished. The pandemic highlighted the importance of these programs, and food service leaders across the country stepped up to feed their students and their communities. The leaders and staff are passionate about serving their students food that is delicious and nutritious so they can flourish. Supporting school meal programs has to be a community effort to ensure this can happen. No one understands this better than Northern California family owned grocery chain Raley’s.
This week, Eat REAL hosted a team from Raley’s at Markham Elementary School in Vacaville Unified School District (VUSD). Raley’s is a top supporter of the Eat REAL Certification program that supports schools like Vacaville Unified to raise the bar. The food service team at VUSD, led by Food Service Director Juan Cordon and head Chef Richie Willim, took the teams on a tour of the school’s newly renovated kitchen, spoke about the evolution of their school meal program, and invited the group to join in for lunch.
Throughout the tour, Juan and Richie spoke to the importance of scratch cooking to ensure the nutrition of a meal and introduce kids to new foods in ways they’ll enjoy. Habits are created in school, and by introducing new farm to school ingredients to kids now will shape their choices with their families and throughout their lives.
Accompanying the day’s meal were sides of perfectly roasted asparagus and bok choy, and the students devoured it. Students were offered a choice of scratch made chicken alfredo – made with Mary’s Organic Chicken, of course – turkey flatbreads, or line caught albacore tuna sandwiches. All meals were served with a perfectly ripe farm to school apple or tangerine. “School Lunch is my favorite food!” one fifth grader told the team. Another came up to Chef Richie asking, “Can you cook for my family?”
Despite supply chain challenges, Juan and Richie have maintained delicious and robust menus. They’ve focused on creating relationships with local farms and producers, many of which did not previously sell to schools which helped weather supply chain shortages. Juan even talked about how he finds inspiration and products by walking through his local Raley’s aisles.
“Our food is personal; these are our kids,” Cordon emphasized, “no one is going to try harder than us and we are going to be the best.”
The support of Raley’s made it possible for Eat REAL’s programs to catalyze change and help over 200,000 students have access to real scratch cooked meals like this every school day. With CA universal meals in place and programs like the CDFA’s Farm to School grants, all students have access to home cooked, delicious and nutritious meals. VUSD shows it is possible to make school meals the best and favorite meal of every child’s day.
The inspiring passion of the VUSD food service team makes all the difference, and the support of the greater community allows it to happen. Raley’s is truly growing healthier communities. Thank you, team Raley’s, for helping us redesign a healthier and more sustainable food system so our children can thrive!