Monday, 4 July 2016

Are You Ready? Do You Know How USDA’s Nutrition Assistance Programs can Play a Vital Role in Helping Those Most in Need Following a Disaster?

Posted by Cora Russell, Food and Nutrition Service, on May 17, 2016 at 9:00 AM
Two women talking
FNS’ initial response includes providing USDA Foods to disaster relief organizations. This include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products including fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains.
Twice a year, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, USDA works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as with other Federal, state and local partners to promote emergency preparedness.  When disasters strike, it’s not only important for you and your family to be prepared, it’s also critical that your community be prepared.  USDA supports local communities by providing access to healthy meals in emergency situations.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) ensures people have access to nutritious food when they find themselves suddenly in need of assistance following a storm, earthquake, flood or other disaster emergency.  Oftentimes after a disaster, retail food stores are closed making it impossible for families to get the food they need.  Even after stores reopen, disaster survivors often still are recovering financially which makes buying food difficult.  FNS programs are there to help in those circumstances.
FNS’ initial response includes providing USDA Foods to disaster relief organizations such as, Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army. USDA Foods include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products which include fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains. FNS works with states to determine the amount and type of food needed and then makes arrangements to get the food to the disaster relief organizations. Once the food is delivered, the states make meals available at shelters and other large-scale feeding sites, or in some cases, deliver food packages to households.
Even after retail food stores are re-opened and operating, if disaster survivors still need nutrition assistance, FNS can authorize states to provide benefits through the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to quickly offer short-term food assistance to families. D-SNAP provides a full month’s benefit to households affected by a disaster who may not normally qualify for or participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also can provide supplemental SNAP benefits to households already participating in the program.
The FNS response efforts can go beyond these two programs as well. FNS’ other nutrition assistance programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Child Nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, have flexibilities to support continuation of benefits to participants in disaster situations.
FNS currently is providing food assistance through D-SNAP for survivors of the recent floods in Louisiana in 30 parishes.  In 2015, FNS also provided assistance to people who were affected by wildfires in California, winter storms in the northeast, typhoons in the Federated States of Micronesia and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the floods in South Carolina. In Fiscal Year 2015, FNS responded to 12 different major disasters and provided approximately $9.8 million in food assistance.
Thanks to the readiness and relief efforts marshalled by federal and state agencies, Indian Tribal organizations, non-governmental and faith-based organizations, corporations, and local partners, USDA is able to lift up communities and help them emerge stronger following disasters. USDA is proud to play a crucial role in those efforts.
Remember, if you are in need of food for your family in the midst of a disaster; contact the disaster relief organization in your area to determine which sites are providing children or families with free meals.  For more information about disaster nutrition assistance in your community, contact your local Red Cross.

Common Misconceptions About the National School Lunch Program

February 15, 2016
School Lunch Program
It’s recently come to our attention that not everyone understands how the National School Meal program works and why the program exists—the latest misinformation coming from the Presidential campaign trail.
This program, which provides nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day, is essential to ensuring that public school students in the U.S. get the nutritious food they need to support their learning.
So, we’d thought we’d clear up some of the common misconceptions about school food.
Fact: The National School Lunch Program is run through the United States Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Education
The National School Lunch Program is run through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As such, it joins other programs—such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—that ensure our country’s citizens get the nutritious food they need. It also joins the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the Special Milk Program. All of these programs help fight hunger and obesity by reimbursing organizations such as schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for providing healthy meals to children. And all of these programs are administered by state agencies—not the federal government or the Department of Education.
Fact: Local schools determine menus
School districts and independent schools that take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the USDA for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. While local districts do have to follow the nutritional guidelines set out by the USDA to receive those subsidies, local districts have control over their own menus. No one is telling schools what food to serve on what days. There is nothing that prevents schools from offering French fries, although now they are usually baked. At Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the district sets the menu for elementary schools and high schools on a district-wide basis.
Fact: The program is based in the need for a strong national defense
The National School Lunch Program was established under the National School Lunch Act, which was signed by President Harry Truman in 1946. The program was designed to “safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.” The program was born out of the concern that much of America’s youth was too malnourished to serve in the military. Today, one quarter of America’s youth are too overweight to serve in the military, which is why the program has retooled its nutrition requirements to ensure students are getting nutritious foods and not just pizza and fries.
As Congress gears up to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which sets the nutrition standards and funding for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, it is important to understand the key role that these programs play in supporting the health and success of students across the country.

School Food Support Initiative Has Taken Root! Announcing the First Round of Grant Recipients

When it comes to serving our children good, nourishing food at school, school districts in America face some serious challenges. Tight budgets, lack of kitchen equipment and proper culinary training are just a few obstacles that schools must contend with when serving up healthy, delicious food. That’s why this past October, Life Time Foundation, in partnership with Chef Ann Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation, launched the School Food Support Initiative – to help motivated school districts committed to improving their school food establish healthier meal programs.
We had a group of really powerful applicants apply for the available spots, and were able to support five with technical assistance services valued at $120,000. We are excited to announce those five recipient districts today!

Bellingham Public Schools

  • Bellingham, WA
  • School District Enrollment: 11,004
  • Number of Schools: 24
  • Average Daily Participation: 37%
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 36%

What are the primary challenges faced by the Food Service program?

USDA reimbursement rates: “The current rates are not keeping up with the increasing cost of providing USDA compliant meals to our students. Increased food costs, labor and benefit costs have created very tight budgets – we are not meeting our goal of running a break-even Food Service program.”
Kitchen Capacity: “We have the classic 'heat, hold & serve' model of food preparation in our district. The four cooking kitchens are limited in space and equipment, making it difficult to prepare scratch-cooked items for the menu. Satellite schools only have warmers and steam tables for service. The kitchen staff has limited skill in preparing fresh, scratch cooked meals. The menu relies heavily on highly processed foods.”

What do you hope to gain from this grant experience?

“I hope to gain firsthand knowledge of how a scratch cooking K-12 school district works on a day-to-day basis.  Also, I’m looking forward to collaborating with other school districts that are interested in making a similar shift to a scratch-cooking model. It’s a big change for our existing program, and it will be beneficial to hear how other districts are managing the change in their own school districts.” 

How will your district benefit from this experience?

“Our community has committed bond dollars to build a new central production kitchen for the school district to be opened in 2019. How our district evolves from our current production model of highly processed “heat, hold and serve” food to a fresh scratch cook model will require enormous changes. The SFSI experience will be invaluable in helping navigate our way through the process of opening the new scratch cooking central kitchen! Ultimately, through better quality school meals and teaching children how to be lifelong healthy eaters, the students of Bellingham Public Schools and the greater community will benefit the most from the experienced gained through the School Food Support Initiative.”

Buford City Schools

  • Buford, GA
  • School District Enrollment: 4,300
  • Number of Schools: 4
  • Average Daily Participation: 57%
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 44%

What are the primary challenges faced by the Food Service program?

Staff Training: “We lack the personnel to train managers and employees on how to properly prepare new menu items. We try new recipes frequently but without providing the managers and staff with proper training, sometimes the items are not cooked correctly and the students do not accept them.”
Outdated Kitchen Equipment: “We lack proper cooking and holding equipment. 2 of our schools are over 20 years old; the ovens do not cook evenly – the temperature varies so much that products are frequently burnt and/or under cooked.”

What do you hope to gain from this grant experience?

“We hope to gain additional knowledge to assist us in creating new ideas and enforcing the current procedures to serve our students healthier, appealing foods that have been produced in our kitchens.  We also hope to gain lasting relationships with other school nutrition professionals across the country that have the same expectations and desires Buford City Schools does when it comes to preparing and serving healthier food to our students.”

How will your District benefit from this experience?

“I think our district is going to benefit from this experience in numerous ways.  First, having an outside eye see the things we are doing and point out areas where we may be able to improve will be very helpful.  Second, learning new ways of serving our students and different techniques that could be beneficial to our students and food service staff will benefit us greatly.  Third, creating relationships with the SFSI team and other districts involved to help better our existing program and also have a network of individuals to assist with fresh ideas to help us serve our students in the most beneficial way possible.  In addition to these benefits, I hope that Buford City Schools Nutrition Department can assist in further cultivating an environment throughout the district and community that teaches children and parents the importance of good nutrition.”

Passaic School District

  • Passaic, NJ
  • School District Enrollment: 14,400
  • Number of Schools: 22
  • Average Daily Participation: 74%
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 100%

What are the primary challenges faced by the Food Service program?

Fast Food’s Influence: “Competing with the advertising dollars of McDonald’s and Burger Kind is a challenge. Initially, I had a lot of pushback when I took chicken nuggets off the menu. However, after joining PTA meetings and getting parents on board, our participation has gone back up. I still have chicken nuggets and chicken patties on the menu. For many students in our high needs district, this may be their only hot meal.”

What do you hope to gain from this grant experience?

“Since coming on board back in 2013, I have been working to incorporate less processed foods into our menu mix.  We have reduced our commodity processing from 85% (2013) to 55% (2016).  We have been using more brown box items from the government and doing more scratch-cooking using USDA batch cooking recipes in our menu.  Unfortunately, we still have a number of pre-plate schools for which we get food from a pre-plate feeding company.  I would like to decrease that number of schools.”

How will your district benefit from this experience?

“Last year, we successfully implemented USDA farm to school grant.  We did a tasting of locally grown and organic produce at a number of schools.  A large percentage of our students were unaware of the term local and organic.  However, by the end of the grant implementation, I had emails from parents and administrators wanting more of this. There were also a number of students with health issues who were aware and appreciative of what we were doing.  I think I will learn to incorporate more "scratch cooking" menu items.  I've reviewed Chef Ann's school menu and I like what I see.”

Warren City Schools

  • Warren, OH
  • School District Enrollment: 4,900
  • Number of Schools: 5
  • Average Daily Participation: 83%
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 83%

What are the primary challenges faced by the Food Service program?

Product Availability: “Our largest challenge is product availability. This problem has forced us to change where we purchase our food. We had to change to a different purchasing service because our hands were tied when they were out of product. The situation is greatly improved; however, manufacturers cannot keep up demands, which results in menu items not being available. When changes need to be made to our menus because of product unavailability, it has overreaching ramifications. With the economy not improving in our area, this year in particular, the department is hearing complaints that students need more food because they are still hungry.”

What do you hope to gain from this grant experience?

“I hope to gain knowledge and ideas that I can take back and apply to my school district.  I hope to develop peer relationships that can be mutually beneficial   to our school districts.”

How will your district benefit from this experience?

“Our district will benefit because it will generate excitement and shine a spotlight on Food Service.  I am a proponent of improving the "status quo", and this will enable us to enhance our program for our students.”

Watertown Public Schools

  • Watertown, MA
  • School District Enrollment: 2,687
  • Number of Schools: 5
  • Average Daily Participation: 40%
  • Free and Reduced Percentage: 28%

What are the primary challenges faced by the Food Service program?

Marketing: “Lack of effective communication, marketing, and presentation of our program after regulation changes in 2012 caused a significant drop in participation. Finding ways to improve participation of our diverse student body and maximizing free and reduced participation has been a challenge.”
Limited Budget: “Rising expenses have prohibited us from purchasing higher quality, healthier products. Outdated aging equipment has led to an increase in repair and maintenance costs. High payroll costs and decreased grant funding sources have limited the amount of professional development we can provide to our staff.”

What do you hope to gain from this grant experience?

“With the assistance provided by this grant, WPS hopes to improve upon their food service program. We hope to gain the tools and experience needed to make greater improvements to the overall operations as well as provide healthier more desirable options for our students.”

How will your district benefit from this experience?

“WPS will be provided the opportunity to learn and gain first hand experience from other districts already making these positive changes. Our operations will benefit from equipment upgrades and staff training. Our students will benefit from healthier great tasting options in the cafeteria. Grant opportunities like this create learning opportunities, and provide equipment and strategies that enable sustainability beyond the grant period.  We are fortunate to have this opportunity!”
Dedicated to improving school meals in America, the three founding cannot wait to help these districts overhaul their meal programs. Program services will begin this Monday, February 8, 2016 and will run all the way through the end of the 2016/2017 school year. Here’s a look at the grant timeline:
  • One-day intensive workshop at Boulder Valley School District (2/8/16)
  • Three-day on-site assessment visits
  • Recommendation reports
  • On-site strategy sessions lead by school food experts
  • Opportunity to apply for $50,000 for each district to purchase new equipment
  • 20 hours of off-site technical assistance 
We will be providing updates on our progress throughout this and next school year!

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The Facts About Salad Bars How to win over naysayers and show them it can be done

This blog was re-posted with the permission of Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools. Read the original post here.
These days, it’s a lot harder to argue against using a salad bar in a school program than it once was. The USDA has backed salad bars as one of the most efficient ways schools can meet the vegetable sub group requirements, and their endorsement has opened the doors for widespread acceptance of the equipment in school cafeterias. School districts all across America are committed to salad bar use as a part of their reimbursable meal.
But there are still naysayers. If someone at your school district is hesitating to implement salad bars because of one of the below concerns, here’s how you can respond, and hopefully bring them around to the idea.
  • Kids Are Too Short – Elementary students can’t serve themselves
This common concern often results in food service staff pre-measuring or “cupping” the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables, instead of allowing the kids to freely choose from the salad bars. Tiny Kindergarteners may need some assistance, that’s true. Are the First Graders slow? Sure, but let’s face it, if they have the finger dexterity to know their way around your iphone or ipad, they can use tongs to serve themselves a carrot. Focusing on choice at the elementary level will impact eating for the rest of children’s lives. To those naysayers who protest because they’re short on service time, I say we must make the time to teach our kids about food.   Engaging elementary students in identifying and tasting new foods is critical. And it will help our meal counts into the future – after all today’s Kindergartner is going to be your customer for 12 years! The salad bar is a perfect venue.
  • Contamination – Kids will spit, sneeze or stick dirty fingers into the salad bar
​The modern salad bar has a sneeze guard for a reason – to protect all of us from the sudden sneeze. The child-sized equipment with sneeze guards does a fine job of keeping little heads out of the bars. Salad bar training, a pattern of what food is next to what (to minimize spilling) and serving utensils can all be optimized to prevent contamination. I recommend changing out the utensils often. Lunch is max 2.5 hours, more often ‒ under 2 hours in many schools. That’s a small and very attainable window for keeping the salad bar tidy with fresh pans and utensils. And the better we are about teaching kids to use mindful etiquette, the less issues their will be. Talk and train — salad bars are an opportunity to engage.
  • No Space – Our POS is at the end of the hot line, we can’t move it to the dining room, and there’s no room for it before the hot line
​I have been in hundreds of dining rooms of all shapes and sizes – if there’s a will, there’s a way. It might not be perfect, but you can make it happen, especially if you can get your principal on board to participate in changes. For instance, alter how the tables are set up in the cafeteria, and boom! Instant space. Don’t let “That’s the way it’s always been” be your enemy.
  • Too Expensive The equipment is costly and so are fresh fruits and vegetables
​First of all, schools can apply for salad bars from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, which has been donating new, state-of-the-art equipment all over the country for years, so that takes care of that concern. On to the fruits and vegetables: they’re actually not as costly as you might think if you are tracking your ingredient production and procurement. As part of the reimbursable meal, a selection from the salad bar averages at or less than the cost of a hot vegetable with a fruit cup side. Track your data.   Kids don’t take everything – some kids take the minimum, some kids come back for seconds—it averages itself out. Is it a little more work to procure real produce than buy canned green beans and apple sauce? Yes. It’s something your staff can learn through following Standard Operating Procedures and using resources like The Lunch Box. Is it worth it? You bet.
  • Past Failures – They tried that once here and it didn’t work
​This happens—When I go to school cafeterias to assess meal programs, I sometimes see an old salad bar tucked away in a corner. I ask about it – it might be used for condiments or taco day, but not as a daily salad bar. Why? The response is often “it was too much work and the kids didn’t eat it”.   It may be difficult trying something that was perceived as not successful in the past, but any challenge that you may have experienced can be overcome. Apply for a salad bar grant, review the salad bar section on The Lunch Box, and talk to directors who are using salad bars successfully. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools partners, Chef Ann Foundation (CAF), the United Fresh Start Foundation, or Whole Kids Foundation, can direct you to one (or one hundred)!
When schools commit to implementing salad bars, it can be game changing for children’s health. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, giving kids variety and choice drastically increases the chance of them eating the healthy options. Simply put, salad bars transform meals for our children, and I hope this blog gives you the confidence to set concerns aside and start using them.
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‘Snack Crack’ Our Children's Addiction to Sugar

A number of years ago, I took part in a video shoot in New York City with students living in an at-risk community. Before the filming began, I was talking to the kids, and I asked them what they had for breakfast. They replied, “snack crack.” I said, “Huh?” They responded, “Snack crack, you know … the adults get high by smoking crack, and we get our rush from eating and drinking sugar.” That exchange has stuck with me all of these years, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about it.
When I became the Director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley Unified School District in California, and again when I became the Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, I eliminated flavored milk. In both cases, there was some initial pushback from the students and some parents, but it died down pretty quickly. In both districts, participation in the lunch program increased over time.
When the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010, it addressed milk by stating that schools needed to serve two kinds – fat-free and 1 percent – and that flavored milk was allowed as long as it was fat-free. Additionally, unfettered access to water was mandated during all meal periods, something that had previously been omitted from school meals. As Congress prepares to reauthorize school lunch legislation and other child nutrition programs, the bipartisan draft bill would mandate a Department of Agriculture study of “milk consumption data and trends for school-aged children” when determining what varieties of milk should be available in school meals. This might sound reasonable, but I believe it to be an effort by the powerful dairy lobby to mandate higher consumption of milk in schools and to promote flavored milk as a way to do so, which of course would add more sugar into school meals.
As I write, I’m pondering a new decision for my school district: removing juice from school meals and carbonated sparkling juice from ala carte sales. When I made the flavored milk decision, it seemed like a no-brainer. But with this decision, I’ve had to do more thinking and research into the issue. Here’s what I’ve found...
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Why Have a School Food Truck? The success of Boulder's Munchie Machine

It’s just before 11:00 a.m. on a snowy spring Friday in Boulder, Colorado when Boulder High School’s first lunch bell rings. Within seconds, students are pouring out the front doors headed towards the delicious smells and lively music coming from the eye-catching Munchie Machine, the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) food truck. Dubbed “Munchie Machine” by the student body, the truck boasts its own Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, where daily menus and event schedules are posted. Today, Munchie followers have been eagerly awaiting the “hot off the grill” natural cheeseburgers since second period. The ordering begins.
The brainchild of BVSD Food Service Director Chef Ann Cooper and Head Chef Brandy Dreibelbis, BVSD’s food truck, aka Munchie Machine, serves hundreds of students delicious, USDA compliant lunches each week and is gaining in popularity with students and community members alike. With favorite dishes like the quinoa burger, pork BBQ sliders and bacon-grilled cheese, not to mention the delicious grain and fresh vegetable sides, Munchie is the trendy new spot for healthy, delicious meals.
  • Boulder Valley School District
  • Student Enrollment: 30,903
  • Schools: 56 (52 with regular Food Service programs)
  • Free and Reduced Percentage (F/R): 19.93%
  • Average Daily Lunch Participation (ADP) 8,756
Chefs Ann and Brandy first envisioned the food truck as a way to increase lunch participation at the district’s five largest high schools, which each have an open campus, meaning students can either eat at school or go out for lunch. “We were only capturing 15-20 percent of our high school students for lunch and we wanted to increase this participation,” says Chef Brandy. With food trucks gaining in popularity and quickly becoming a local food trend, the chefs thought a district sponsored food truck parked just outside the high schools’ front doors was the perfect solution. “Kids can still leave the building, go outside, eat from a food truck and access their lunch accounts, but be served something a little different.” The hope was to catch kids at the food truck before they head off campus for less than healthy favorites like soda, chips and processed fast food. The food truck provides a USDA compliant reimbursable meal – which means students who pay full price and those who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Meal Program can enjoy the meals just as they would in the lunchroom.

A day in the Life of Munchie

Arriving at Munchie’s home base – one of BVSD’s Production Kitchens – at 7:15 each weekday morning, the food truck team starts prepping food for that day’s lunch service, also taking to social media to post the day’s menu. The menu selection is robust  - with a rotation of about 20 recipes from adobo-braised beef tacos and BBQ pulled pork to buffalo chicken sliders and quinoa burgers - three items are offered each day and one is vegetarian. Gluten free is available too.
​ Tasks as varied as cleaning the snow off the truck (and on this day, waiting for the locks to thaw) and making sure the equipment is working to running the generators and setting up the register are performed quickly and efficiently by the seasoned food truck staff. Munchie pulls out of the Production Kitchen in plenty of time to arrive at the school about 15 minutes before lunch starts. Once in position, the team fires up the grills, starts the music, and starts on final food prep. While much of the food is prepared in the production kitchen, the pressing of sandwiches, grilling of burgers and quesadillas happens on the food truck – offering fresh, hot off the grill options for students. When the bell rings, set up is complete and service begins!
After a successful day, the team packs up and returns to home base to clean up and complete production records. Munchie operates on a set schedule, cycling between the district’s largest high schools four days a week and one day a week at the District Education Center for lunch hour and serving up breakfast burritos to a local middle school every Wednesday morning. Once a week the team washes the truck and fills it with gas and diesel.

The Food Truck Team

BVSD hired two dedicated staff members to man the truck, developing a very specific job description, which differs from that of the regular kitchen staff. Staff qualifications run the gamut from being able to prep and cook the food, to driving the truck on busy roads and maintaining the truck inside and out. Also, “Truck service staff personality is key,” and the ability to provide exceptional customer service with food truck style cheer is a crucial element to success.
Rosie Harris and Nancy DeVita fill this role for BVSD, and have developed a great rapport with the students – knowing their names, listening to their ideas for new food items and welcoming comments to change the music so it’s relevant and enjoyed by students at each school. “I dig being outside with the kids. I love seeing them trudge through the snow with big smiles on their faces to get lunch from us, or race each other to be first, or take shelter from the rain under our awning while waiting for their order, or basking in the sun on the school lawns looking satisfied from what they just ate from the truck. I think like most food service workers you're happy when you're customers are happy!” says Harris. Coming up for seconds, thirds, and even fourths, the kids seem satisfied indeed.

Tips From Chef Brandy for a Successful District Food Truck Program

Purchasing Your Truck: Thanks to a generous  $75,000 grant from Whole Foods Market, BVSD was able to purchase their truck in March of 2014. Chef Brandy recommends searching Craigslist ads for used food trucks – that’s how she came across Munchie. With a price tag of $49,000, BVSD purchased the truck and spent the remaining grant funds on needed equipment, repairs and a $10,000 “wrap”, freshening up the exterior with a new branded design.
Truck Size: Chef Brandy encourages districts to be thoughtful about the truck size. BVSD’s food truck is about 5 feet longer than typical trucks (which come in around 24 feet). Through experience the team has learned that Munchie’s length makes her difficult to maneuver in some situations.
Equipment: BVSD’s truck came with equipment (a deep fryer) that was removed and replaced with a flat top griddle.  BVSD chose to install two flat tops but has come to realize the second griddle pulls a lot of unnecessary electricity, and for that reason is seldom used. BVSD also purchased an awning that can be rolled out to shade the service window/condiment area on hot sunny days.
Know Your Local Regulations: “Be aware of city/county health and fire codes and sales taxes rules – there are several different licenses that are required by your City and County,” advises Chef Brandy. From local regulations to other factors, be ready to expect the unexpected. For example, BVSD learned through a mandatory fire inspection that Munchie need an “ansul” fire suppressant system installed. At a cost of $5,000, this was a big hit to the budget.
Engage your District Transportation Department: From the beginning, Chef Brandy made sure the District’s Transportation Department was on board, since they’d be responsible for truck maintenance. Not only do they service the truck when needed, the District Fleet Manager assisted with the initial purchase, offering his advice and input on whether Munchie fit the bill.

Meeting Goals

The goals for the BVSD food truck were three-fold and since the March 2014 launch, have all been met:
  • Increase lunch participation at the high schools
  • Add an income source for the district food services department
  • Serve as a new marketing tool for the “School Food Project” – the district’s food service program. 

Capturing High School Attention and Appetites

Average Daily Participation (ADP) at high schools is up and the food truck (which serves an average of 80 students/day and elevates exposure of the school food program) is no doubt contributing to the increase.

Catering for Additional Income

“We have to find ways to be sustainable year round – school events, community events – that money helps to keep us going,” says Chef Brandy. Munchie Machines’ catering calendar is packed with over 30 events each year, including PTA dinners, district fall festivals, Farmer’s Markets, and local sporting events like the annual Iron Man and Yoga Festival. These are all great ways to offer healthy food to the community while bringing in extra revenue that goes towards purchasing quality ingredients for school meals.

Munchie the Mobile Marketing Machine

“The Food Truck is basically a mobile billboard, a free marketing tool out in the community,” says Chef Brandy. Munchie gets a lot of attention – from locals commenting as the truck drives by to interest from national media outlets, the buzz helps raise awareness of and engagement in the district’s school food service program. “The food truck is a conversation piece,” Chef Brandy explains. “When people come to the truck for food at community events, they’re often curious and asking questions about the truck, who it serves… leading to questions about the School Food Project in general.”
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The Case for Central Kitchens - Turning vision into reality

One of my favorite farmers, Joel Salatin often says if we want to save agriculture and the health of our country then we need to “find our kitchens” again.  I’d like to take that thought one step further and say that if we want to save our children’s health, then we need to find school kitchens again.  I believe that the way toward healthier school food is cooking, and to do that, we must find, build or rebuild school food infrastructure – the kitchens. During the past 17 years of working in schools, I have accomplished this goal in different ways. I’ve managed schools cooking on their own, districts that have regional kitchens that cook for many schools, and now I’m in the process of designing and building one Central Kitchen (CK) for Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), which will serve over 13,000 meals per day for 52 locations. In my mind, cooking in a centralized environment will be the most efficient and cost effective model yet.

I’m often told that it’s counter-intuitive to think that better food can be had in a centralized production model.  Many people have this idyllic vision of lunch ladies in their child’s school that cook just for their child. As bucolic and appealing as that vision might be, the reality of hundreds, if not thousands, if not tens of thousands of meals served every day, follows a much different paradigm.  There is no “one-way” to feed students in schools, but I believe that there are realistic steps that school districts can take to make the best possible food in the most cost effective and efficient manner.

Why Move to a Central Kitchen?

Central Kitchens help support better tasting and higher quality food, a better bottom-line, and regional agriculture. To break that down, when we look at the consolidation of production, there are a number of factors to consider that can prove beneficial to school food operations:
  • Equipment: using large-scale equipment and technology enhances efficiency.
  • Storage: effectively using storage areas, including refrigeration (both coolers and freezers) allows for more regional sourcing of fresh produce.
  • Staffing: minimizing staffing while integrating higher skill levels reduces overall staffing cost.
  • Waste Reduction: transitioning to a central facility reduces waste and utilities use.
  • Cost: using funds outside the typical operations budget (like bond or capitol dollars) is essentially “free” money to build the facility and can reduce ongoing operational and food costs for years to come. 
That being said, building a Central Kitchen is no easy task and takes a considerable amount of planning, time and expertise.  BVSD first decided it would need a Central Kitchen after an assessment of food services was completed and presented to the school board in 2008. The District passed a bond measure in 2014 that included $10M for the kitchen. Since then we have been planning: running financial scenarios, visiting existing centralized facilities, creating future menus and recipes, working through future staffing budgets, thinking through equipment needs, building square footage and mapping out what we can do to start adjusting and enhancing the current system so that we will be ready when the Central Kitchen comes online.

Start with the Vision

If you’ve decided to move towards a Central Kitchen, before any of the detailed planning takes place, the very first thing to do is to write and refine a vision statement that will serve as your roadmap for the entire project. When you begin the process of writing your vision statement, you pick a time in the future and express in as much detail as possible exactly what you’ll see, hear and feel when you walk into your Central Kitchen.  Once you’ve done this, the rest will follow. Below are excerpts of the vision statement I wrote for the BVSD Central Kitchen. If you’d like to read the full statement, you can do so here. I hope it inspires you to consider this option and gives you a taste of why Central Kitchens are so important for school food change.
Vision Statement
On August 1st 2017 we had a ribbon cutting and local food celebration to commemorate the opening of the Boulder Valley School District’s (BVSD) new culinary facility. The Leed Certified Culinary and Nutrition Center (CNC) is a showcase for healthy, delicious scratch cooked school meals with a priority on buying and cooking with local food. The CNC will support 20,000 freshly prepared meals per day that are made from the highest quality ingredients possible given financial constraints assuming a yearly positive financial position.  These meals include breakfast, lunch, snacks, catering, vending, Food Trucks as well as a CafĂ©. Total combined revenues top $20M annually with a 3% bottom line surplus.
Why go to all of this expense and use of scarce resources some might ask… the answer of course is the students.  Our primary responsibility is to feed our students the healthiest possible food.  In fact I often go so far as to say that it should be a birthright in our country that every child – every day has healthy delicious food in school and that no child is ever hungry.  That is exactly what we’re doing in our CNC – assuring that all of our children are well nourished; body, mind and spirit and that they are knowledgeable in food literacy.  Our passion for healthy food shines through in all we do; from the juiciest roast chicken, to the sumptuous ripe peaches to the rainbow colors of the fruits and vegetables prepped for the District salad bars – flavors overwhelmingly abound.
From a purchasing standpoint, the CNC will support local farmers and producers and place a high priority on local ingredients and products.  We will cook with the least possible processed ingredients; 50% of our ingredients will be organic, natural, ABF and GMO free – 100% will be HFCS, added transfat, chemical and dye free.  All of our food will be made with these high quality ingredients, with the exception of specific items such as tortillas, bagels and tamales, which will be made to our specifications and which will follow our vision.
The Center, considered a Food Hub, will partner with local farmers and producers to assist in value added production and will service BVSD students as well as other schools, school districts and community organizations such as Meals on Wheels and Community Food Share.  In this vein the CNC will host a weekly farmer’s market as well as serve as the meeting and training facility for the Food Service Team and an educational, marketing and outreach facility for the BVSD community as well as the larger National School Food and Farm to School communities.
The legacy of the CNC will be what we see on our student’s plates both at home and in school.   Changing their palettes and eating habits will be the result of their hands-on experiential food experiences that the CNC will both guide and provide.  These experiences will include every Elementary School (ES) student visiting a farm, the CNC, attend a cooking class, participate in a Salad Bar Rainbow Day, participate in numerous tastings and have the ability to participate in an Iron Chef competition. Every ES school will have a garden and the garden fruits and veggies will be served on the salad bars. Further, every ES student will know farm fresh flavors, taste dozens of new foods and will have a basic understanding of the relationship between healthy food, healthy kids and healthy earth. 
As students matriculate into Middle School (MS) their experiences with food will become more sophisticated.  At least two Iron Chef winning recipes will appear on the menu each year, which will be the culmination of their cooking classes.  At least one of these competitions will include cooking from their school gardens and during BVSD’s Day at the Farmer’s Market, these students will do cooking demonstrations for the market’s customers.  When the MS students participate in their yearly farm visit, they will focus on animal husbandry including animal welfare, animals as food and the relationship between CNC’s composting program and the animal’s feed.  Finally these MS students will become the “Green Food Team,” which will mentor the ES students on their food choices and our food system.
Finally as our students are seeing graduation on the horizon, they will take with them from the BVSD experience a true sense of real food, a sense of seasons, of flavors, of the deliciousness of what’s on their plates, the balance between what they eat, how its grown and the sustainability of life itself.  As our students begin their lives be it college or work or travel, our food and Food Literacy education will have positively impacted them for their lifetimes and with that we will have succeeded in changing the health of our nation’s children and perhaps saved the planet as well.  Lofty goals from a kitchen – but real food can and will save the generations to come and the CNC will play a part in that!
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