Eat REAL Visits Four Districts Leading School Food

Entering in to the Eat REAL Certification program requires passion, dedication, and openness to recreating the “norm” in school food. Our current cohort of school district leaders embody all of this and more, and are setting the example for what school food should be across the country. This month our team went to visit four of cohort districts, touring cafeterias, and sitting down with directors, staff, and students to learn about their programs’ challenges, wins, and what they hope to achieve in the future.

North Monterey County Unified School District

North Monterey County High School

Sarah Doherty, Director of Nutrition Services & Wellness is constantly working to improve upon the already progressive food service program at NMCUSD. One of her big projects prior to students returning to school, was to update the cafeteria spaces to be more inviting places to dine. The high school cafeteria we visited had the look and feel of one found at a college or university. 

She and her staff take full advantage of the kitchen and storage to scratch cook as much as possible and play with creative meal presentation. Both of these practices has increased demand for items such as “shaker salads” and fresh wraps. 

When speaking with a group of students about their feelings around the food served at school, one 10th grader said, “If it’s [the food] from school I don’t have to worry about it. I know it’s going to be good for me.”

Morgan Hill Unified School District

El Toro Elementary, Lewis Britton Middle School, Sobrato High School

Director of Student Nutrition, Michael Jochner, has an inspiring vision for what school food programs could look like and has heavily invested in new tech and operations. One of his proudest achievements is the district’s new Freight Farm. The hydropnic farm, built in a shipping container can grow 2.5 acres of lettuce at a time, and only use 5 gallons of water per day. The farm is located within 10 miles of all the district’s schools, and grows 1,000 heads of organic lettuce per week, all served to students within 24 hours of harvest.

Now, they want to build more of these so they can “grow the entire salad.” This is especially timely given California’s dire water situation

Walnut Creek School District

Walnut Creek Intermediate, Murwood Elementary, Tice Creek

The small but powerhouse staff led by Food Service Supervisor, Rebecca Steffler saw school meal participation nearly double once the emergency waivers went into place in 2020. Her passionate team was more than up for the challenge. With California Universal meals beginning next school year, Rebecca is planning to provide scratch cooked breakfasts at all schools. 

“I love serving beautiful food for the kids, these are my kids”, said the kitchen lead at Murwood elementary. 

At each of the schools, the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables offered at self-serve salad bars were a stand-out. During lunch, students were eager to fill their plates with many coming back for seconds or thirds. 

Vacaville Unified School District

Edwin Markham Elementary

The food service team at VUSD, led by Food Service Director Juan Cordon and head Chef Richie Willim, led a tour of the school’s newly renovated kitchen, spoke about the evolution of their school meal program.

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. Read more about the visit here.

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