Small district staff serves fresh meals daily

Among the long lunch lines lie common misconceptions about the origins of the food that serves an average of 700 students every day at Sequoia.

It takes approximately eight hours for the food students eat at lunch to be prepared, transported and distributed at the lunch windows at Sequoia. That is less time than it takes for produce at Safeway to be assembled for display after leaving the warehouse–and it is all done by 8 people for a district of 10,000 students.

Arriving at the food preparation and distribution facility near the district offices at 4 a.m. and working until 10 a.m., the production staff at 300 James St. does everything from assembling salads to wrapping burritos fresh daily.

“We buy fruits and vegetables from local growers [in] Stockton and the [Central] Valley,” said Nora DeCaro, Director of Food Services for the SUHSD. “For the most part, we’re able to get our fruits and vegetables locally so we don’t have to resort to canned fruit.”

Contrary to popular belief, all of the ingredients are delivered to the production facility each day and the entrees are prepared to be served at that day’s breakfast, brunch, lunch and after school SAFE mealtimes.

“They do all the prep, and then we have a cooler over here and we have two trucks that take all of this food out in the morning so your sandwich is made in the morning and it’s delivered to your school site in time to be served for lunch,” DeCaro said. “Students have this perception that the food isn’t freshly made every day; that somehow it’s coming from I don’t know where.”

At Sequoia, about half of the student body is part of the Free and Reduced Lunch program, a government-subsidized initiative which decreases the cost of lunch for students whose families meet income qualifications.

This year the district has switched to 100 percent whole grain products in continuing with the wellness policy that was set in place in 2010 to ensure a healthier standard for food served on school campuses. This policy is what prompted the switch from soda to fruit juice in the vending machines and regulates the type of snack food served based on nutritional content.

“We have very similar items on the menu that we’ve always pretty much had, but they’re really brand new this year because the recipes have been redesigned to meet these requirements. So you’re secretly getting more whole grains and more fruits and vegetables, and you don’t even know it,” DeCaro said.

Apart from state regulations, DeCaro has her own standards for the quality of food she serves.

“If I’m not willing to eat it myself I’m certainly not going to consider serving it to students. I’m very unhappy with some of the [food] that I’ve seen, and it’s getting to be a little bit more challenging to find food products that we can afford to serve on the lunch program that I consider to be food,” she said.

At Sequoia alone an average of 700 students are served lunch and 500-600 eat breakfast and brunch. This leaves DeCaro and her staff to find a balance between ensuring every student that needs lunch gets fed and limiting leftovers to reduce waste. DeCaro’s goal is to limit lunch leftovers to 20 entrees or fewer per day, though that number is often higher when there is a conflicting school event that serves food simultaneously.

Although DeCaro has reached out to organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank, the cooked meals do not fit their needs, and are thus thrown away at the end of each day.

As shown in our diagram (left), a recycling and composting system in Sequoia’s cafeteria would help to cut down Sequoia’s environmental footprint, following the implementation of the popular reusable water bottle filling station outside the MPR.