News

Tempting kids with tastier hot lunches

District working to turn around dwindling school program

Kids may be on the fast track for gourmet meals at school -- or, at least, better meals. Following a report that student participation in the school lunch program is bad and getting worse, the Mountain View Whisman School District hired a new director of child nutrition last month to get more palatable food into the cafeterias.

Juan Cordon is the school district's first director of child nutrition, and has been steeped in food service management for over 22 years. Cordon has worked for major food service companies like Sodexo and Marriott, and more recently served as the food service director for the Santa Clara Unified School District for 13 years.

Cordon said he helped transition Santa Clara Unified away from frozen, re-heated meals, and towards fresh meals made from scratch at a district site. After hiring new chefs and revamping the kitchens, Cordon said kids were eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting introduced to foods they may not have tasted before.

"Even simple things, like replacing tortillas with lavash bread," Cordon said.

Instead of frozen single-serve pizzas and taco pockets, the district now has flank steak salad, roasted chicken breast, and lentil salad. Hamburgers started coming with lettuce and tomato, and romaine lettuce is served as an alternative to iceberg lettuce.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Mountain View Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Cordon said the Mountain View Whisman School District hired him with three goals in mind: they wanted the food to be healthier, they wanted kids to enjoy it more and they wanted to make the food from scratch. The last of the three might be the trickiest.

"We're still in the learning stage," Cordon said. "In some cases the facilities need to get caught up to speed to make that transition."

"From scratch," in this case, could mean that food is produced at Crittenden Middle School, packaged and shipped out to district schools to be consumed the next day. If muffins are on the menu tomorrow, Cordon said, the district would buy up the ingredients from local organic producer and cook them at Crittenden.

"In the past we may have served a muffin that was pre-made and frozen. Now we're buying the batter," Cordon said.

Only three weeks into the school year, Cordon said the district has moved away from canned fruit, and offers up apples, oranges and plums to accompany meals. Schools are also serving antibiotic-free hamburgers and nitrate-free hotdogs, though it's unclear whether those changes are here to stay.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

The new school food will work along new federal guidelines, which requires, among other things, that grains be at least 51 percent whole grain. He said its the department's job to make sure when they introduce brown rice and whole-grain spaghetti to children in the schools, they do it in a way that kids will enjoy it.

"It'll take a while though, it won't happen overnight," Cordon said.

An uphill climb

A report by Lunch Lessons LLC at a school board meeting last June found that average daily participation in the school food program dropped anywhere from 1 to 2 percent during the 2013-14 school year, bringing district-wide participation down to 40 percent.

Across the elementary schools, 75 percent of students that qualified for free lunch participated in the school lunch program. For students who pay full price for meals, that number drops to just 15 percent. Due in part to the dwindling participation, the district's Child Nutrition Department has run over budget since at least 2011, with expenses exceeding revenues by as much as $144,000.

Cordon admitted that some costs could go up when they weigh the different food options and opt for organic, whole-grain bagels over the alternatives, but said the department will have more money to spend if the food attracts more kids to purchase hot lunches.

Cordon said it's possible school lunch participation is in a downward trend because the food hasn't kept up with changing tastes. He said kids are being exposed to food at grocery stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, and that the community wants higher quality food at the school level -- and school districts need to follow suit.

"We want to take the stigma away from school food," Cordon said.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Tempting kids with tastier hot lunches

District working to turn around dwindling school program

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 10, 2014, 9:13 am

Kids may be on the fast track for gourmet meals at school -- or, at least, better meals. Following a report that student participation in the school lunch program is bad and getting worse, the Mountain View Whisman School District hired a new director of child nutrition last month to get more palatable food into the cafeterias.

Juan Cordon is the school district's first director of child nutrition, and has been steeped in food service management for over 22 years. Cordon has worked for major food service companies like Sodexo and Marriott, and more recently served as the food service director for the Santa Clara Unified School District for 13 years.

Cordon said he helped transition Santa Clara Unified away from frozen, re-heated meals, and towards fresh meals made from scratch at a district site. After hiring new chefs and revamping the kitchens, Cordon said kids were eating more fruits and vegetables, and getting introduced to foods they may not have tasted before.

"Even simple things, like replacing tortillas with lavash bread," Cordon said.

Instead of frozen single-serve pizzas and taco pockets, the district now has flank steak salad, roasted chicken breast, and lentil salad. Hamburgers started coming with lettuce and tomato, and romaine lettuce is served as an alternative to iceberg lettuce.

Cordon said the Mountain View Whisman School District hired him with three goals in mind: they wanted the food to be healthier, they wanted kids to enjoy it more and they wanted to make the food from scratch. The last of the three might be the trickiest.

"We're still in the learning stage," Cordon said. "In some cases the facilities need to get caught up to speed to make that transition."

"From scratch," in this case, could mean that food is produced at Crittenden Middle School, packaged and shipped out to district schools to be consumed the next day. If muffins are on the menu tomorrow, Cordon said, the district would buy up the ingredients from local organic producer and cook them at Crittenden.

"In the past we may have served a muffin that was pre-made and frozen. Now we're buying the batter," Cordon said.

Only three weeks into the school year, Cordon said the district has moved away from canned fruit, and offers up apples, oranges and plums to accompany meals. Schools are also serving antibiotic-free hamburgers and nitrate-free hotdogs, though it's unclear whether those changes are here to stay.

The new school food will work along new federal guidelines, which requires, among other things, that grains be at least 51 percent whole grain. He said its the department's job to make sure when they introduce brown rice and whole-grain spaghetti to children in the schools, they do it in a way that kids will enjoy it.

"It'll take a while though, it won't happen overnight," Cordon said.

An uphill climb

A report by Lunch Lessons LLC at a school board meeting last June found that average daily participation in the school food program dropped anywhere from 1 to 2 percent during the 2013-14 school year, bringing district-wide participation down to 40 percent.

Across the elementary schools, 75 percent of students that qualified for free lunch participated in the school lunch program. For students who pay full price for meals, that number drops to just 15 percent. Due in part to the dwindling participation, the district's Child Nutrition Department has run over budget since at least 2011, with expenses exceeding revenues by as much as $144,000.

Cordon admitted that some costs could go up when they weigh the different food options and opt for organic, whole-grain bagels over the alternatives, but said the department will have more money to spend if the food attracts more kids to purchase hot lunches.

Cordon said it's possible school lunch participation is in a downward trend because the food hasn't kept up with changing tastes. He said kids are being exposed to food at grocery stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods, and that the community wants higher quality food at the school level -- and school districts need to follow suit.

"We want to take the stigma away from school food," Cordon said.

Comments

Greg Coladonato
Registered user
Slater
on Sep 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm
Greg Coladonato, Slater
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm
4 people like this

Welcome to the district, Mr. Cordon!

I have two children currently in the school district. I try to teach them about healthy eating, which means many things, but one thing is to try to make sugary food an occasional "treat" than a regular part of one's diet.

So I was surprised to learn that the district does not offer half-pints of whole milk to kids having lunch, but does offer low-fat sweetened chocolate milk.

Just last week the New York Times ran a story (Web Link) which ended thus:

---
Dr. Mozaffarian said the research suggested that health authorities should pivot away from fat restrictions and encourage people to eat fewer processed foods, particularly those with refined carbohydrates.

The average person may not pay much attention to the federal dietary guidelines, but their influence can be seen, for example, in school lunch programs, which is why many schools forbid whole milk but serve their students fat-free chocolate milk loaded with sugar, Dr. Mozaffarian said.
---

I would very much like to find out more about the policies and values guiding Mr. Cordon's work here in the MVWSD.


Sara
Rengstorff Park
on Sep 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm
Sara, Rengstorff Park
on Sep 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm
5 people like this

Improvement cannot happen soon enough. I'm appalled by the food served to growing children in the school lunch program in MV-- it's really a disgrace.

I rarely let my child eat school lunches but when I occasionally need to, I hear about him being fed hot dogs, hamburgers that are burned on the outside and cold in the middle, and apple slices that "taste like chemicals."

This seems like a step in the right direction, at last. Moms will be watching :)


Bre
North Whisman
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:40 pm
Bre, North Whisman
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:40 pm
5 people like this

My son who is in 7th grade has described better (tastier) lunches this year. He likes the chicken burgers, plums, and abiluty to make his own salad. Thank you.


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:09 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:09 am
3 people like this

The Administration of the MVWSD did almost all the work on this change-over (they were helped with grant funding). This program of switching the traditional food supplier for MVWSD, trying to go out for 'a contract' and then adapting to 'inadequate contract proposals' was an example (IMO) of great adaptability on the part of the DO management.
As with all customer service points - Continuous Improvement - will, again In My Opinion, be the mark of an excellent future food service system - or a so-so one. Mom's Survey? Monitored by the Board?

SN is an elected Trustee of the MVWSD, who occasionally, likes to 'get a jump on posting' over Trustee Chris Chang or Trustee Ellen Wheeler. This method of providing food service was on the Board Agenda several months ago, and Trustee Chiang has been (IMO) the point-man on this food issue. [email protected]


Alex M
Willowgate
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:47 am
Alex M, Willowgate
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:47 am
4 people like this

I'm reminded of the movie "Supersize Me", which included a segment about school lunches and their effect on learning. The segment described one high school who had many problems with behavior and discipline. That school also had an initiative for healthier eating, which involved removing sugary soft drinks from vending machines and replacing them with fruit juices, and providing healthier lunches.

Almost overnight the school administrators noticed a positive change: students more attentive, better behaved, test scores went up, etc.

Ever since I saw that film, I have wondered how much the nationally abysmal quality of California public schools can be attributed to what we're feeding our kids.


Haha
Gemello
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Haha, Gemello
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm
3 people like this

Alex, probably 100%. The other day I watched a movie where Denzel flew a plane upside down and saved like 200 lives! Let's just all live. In a society where we can "blame" and not take any responsibility for what OUR children eat. It takes like 5 minutes to cut a fruit, make a sandwich throw a Capri sun in a bag and send your kid off to school. As your children turn into young adults are you gonna blame other outside factors as to why your daughter smokes weed, or your son is promiscuous? Yeah, it's the food that's the reason your child got a D-. Just use coca cola, or watch another movie.


Karen
another community
on Nov 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm
Karen, another community
on Nov 20, 2014 at 2:57 pm
3 people like this

This is definitely a step in the right direction. I think as parents our biggest challenge is to have easy and up to date access to school lunch menus so we can know what our kids are being offered in their school. I recently talked to a friend in San Diego who is thrilled about a new Mobile lunch Menu App (Yumyummi Digital School menus) that the San Diego Unified School District is using. Students and parents are now able to see their daily menus on smartphones. That's just amazing and I would love to have this in our district in Santa Clara. Maybe the should check to see if our district is planning to do an app. I am hopeful that school administrators will really start to offer nutritious food in the coming years.

Best,
Karen


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.