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Natomas Unified School District is Eat Real Certified!

Eat Real is thrilled to announce Natomas Unified School District (NUSD) is Eat Real Certified at the green tier! Serving students in the northwestern Sacramento area, Natomas Unified is the second most diverse school district in the nation (New York Times, 2016), and the most diverse district in California. NUSD’s dynamic, committed food service staff serve their 15,000 students with compassion, building a culture of serving quality food and placing community at the heart of everything they do. 

The students at NUSD are incredibly fortunate to have a close-knit, two-director team: Vince Caguin and Jennifer Orosco. Their teamwork and shared focus on staff engagement and professional development has propelled their food program to where it is today. Vince identifies himself as the ideas generator and Jenn is the implementer; together they have developed a speed scratch cooking program and a staff culture that supports a unified vision of a healthier future for all Natomas Unified students. 

Vince learned about Eat Real through other Eat Real participating food service leaders and knew he wanted to get involved. “We brought in Eat Real to help us with our comeback story,” says Vince. “It’s our goal to shift peoples’ perception of school food. We’re doing that by building a culture of serving quality food to our students and community, grown and made by people within our community.” According to Vince, the plan is working. As Natoma invests in their staff, ingredients, and local farmers and producers, student participation in the meal program has increased to offset cost. The more real food Natomas serves, the more kids who want to eat.

NUSD’S food program sets itself apart by utilizing speed scratch cooking, a strategy for migrating from heat-and-serve meals to a fully scratch-cooked meal program. The secret? Specific and efficient upgrades to their centralized kitchen, making each change intentionally to continue on their  cooking journey. They also invest a great amount of time in their staff to ensure everyone is excited about these scratch cooking developments: they are always testing new recipes, gathering student feedback, and visiting local restaurants together for inspiration. 

Here are a few of NUSD’s Eat Real certification highlights and major wins for their students: 

Sustainable sourcing: NUSD sources 72% of their produce from local farmers! Spork Food Hub, a regional food hub local to Sacramento, is their primary provider of fresh, delicious produce for their salad bars and menus. Natomas Unified was a key figure in helping Spork launch in the middle of the pandemic, and is the first school district in California to name a local food hub as their primary produce provider. 

Reduced sugar: They keep added sugar low for their students by not offering any juice on the menu. Additionally, all of their condiments and entree sauces meet Eat Real’s standard of containing less that 6 grams of added sugar per serving. They plan to continue reducing sugar as they grow their scratch cooking programs.

High-quality, local meats and animal products: NUSD offers their students regenerative agriculture all-beef patties and hot dogs from Cream Co. Meats.

Minimally processed ingredients: The school has been diligently working on increasing the number of speed scratched and scratch cooked meals, such as student-favorite Sweet Chili Thai Chicken with Fried Rice. 

Achieving Eat Real’s green tier certification is  only the beginning for NUSD. They continue to incorporate Eat Real standards into their school meal program for the health and well being of their students and community. Their long-term goals include upgrading their kitchen equipment in the central kitchen to continue ramping up their scratch cooking program. They are also working on making upgrades to their serving equipment at all 20 school sites, including salad bars, updating serving lines, and adding bulletin boards for key farm and nutritional information. 

Please join us in celebrating Natomas’ great achievement and continuing efforts to continue building their excellent food program!

Eat Real’s certification program provides Food Service leaders with the framework and support they need to make their school menus delicious, nutritious and planet-sustaining. To achieve green tier certification, school districts need to meet a minimum set of requirements and achieve a score of at least 60% or higher, based on an assessment against the 10 Eat Real Standards (see visual for more details).