The La Cañada Unified School District is celebrating National Nutrition Month in March, so leaders of the LCUSD Food Services recently went over some highlights of their program when they appeared at a recent school board meeting.
Gretchen Bergstrom, the district’s director of fiscal services, started the presentation with some basic facts about those who work in LCF public schools to feed students.
More than two-thirds of the 22-member Food Services staff has spent 16 or more years with the LCUSD; altogether, the staff has 303 years of experience with the district. It provides services to La Cañada, Paradise Canyon and Palm Crest elementary schools and La Cañada High School.
“We are very pleased that we were also able to work with the union, CSEA [California School Employees Association], and were able to give the food service staff an increase of two ranges on the salary schedule and everyone received additional minutes per day,” Bergstrom said.
With Kitchen Infrastructure and Training funding it received in 2011 from the state, Food Services purchased equipment that would help the unit cook twice as much pasta or meat as before, a new double oven for La Cañada Elementary and two new electric food carts. The training funds provided employees a chance to interact with a nutritionist in a workshop and enabled each employee to receive a food handler’s certificate.
“We’ve applied for 2022 KIT funds and will await approval on that,” Melissa Greenwood, the district’s assistant superintendent of business and operations, told the Outlook Valley Sun.
Food carts were introduced to LCHS at the end of February and have been a hit with students, Bergstrom said. The carts come out each day, and each holds 100 meals. The goal is to provide convenience to the students and relief to cafeteria lines. The carts are located in the school’s quad; one has a variety of pizzas, the other has a variety of hot and cold sandwiches. Students can use their school IDs to get lunch from them.
With this convenience, and the addition to the universal free meals program that started in the 2022-2023 school year, more students are getting lunch, Bergstrom added.
The universal free meals program allows each student to receive a free breakfast and a free lunch every day with federal and state funds.
“Lunches are now averaging 1,700, and with introduction of breakfast this [school] year, we are averaging over 600,” said Bergstrom.
The combined daily average is 2,300 meals a day. Prior to the pandemic, the district was averaging about 900 meals per day.
Students at LCHS also have the surprise of trying a new recipe from Jammar Jones’ Discovery Kitchen. Jones tests recipes for students to try, and they are invited to give feedback.
“It started before COVID and has recently been revamped. Jammar and his team have held it a couple times so far this year and will hold at least one a month going forward,” Greenwood told the Outlook Valley Sun.
Looking toward the future, LCUSD Food Services has ordered new equipment including food warmers for Paradise Canyon Elementary and Palm Crest Elementary and hopes to get them at the end of the month.
Food Services is looking to create a kitchen master plan to refresh the kitchen from both a functional and cosmetic point of view. The plan would include a complete kitchen renovation, replacement of food protectors and serving stations, wall decor murals with food-related designs, and possibly TV monitors. Officials were waiting for a proposal from a contractor, Chartwells, that they would bring to district leaders; if the idea moves forward, it would be a multiyear project with multiple funding sources.
The plan is just to refresh the LCHS kitchen first and depending on funds received, the LCUSD Food Services will look to update the other schools.
“This would depend on what level of funding is received. We would like to update all sites at least a little. The main revamp would be at the high school, as that is where all the meals are prepped and then transported to the elementary sites,” Greenwood said.
On the newly updated Food Services website, families can see meals planned for the day, week or month, and the nutritional contents of each meal. Other features of the website include tabs to nutrition and fitness resources, and a wellness tab
that includes the district wellness policy and wellness council. For more information, visit nutrition.lcusd.net.
First published in the March 23 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.