By Karen Billing
Two weeks into a new school year, the Del Mar Union School District’s new lunch program is getting thumbs up reviews from parents and young customers alike. Over the summer the school board entered a contract with the vendor Choicelunch, a company that provides meals for children, mostly made from scratch using locally sourced organic fruits and vegetables, and hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry and meats.
“It’s just great to see kids eating ‘real food’,” said Yana Mohanty, co-chair of the Child Nutrition Committee. “Last week I saw children gobbling up chicken noodle soup.”
As district superintendent Jim Peabody reported at the September board meeting, the numbers for orders are up. For the week of Sept. 12 there were 4,468 orders, compared to 3,070 the same week last year. For the week of Sept. 20, 4,879 orders have already been placed compared to 3,570 last year.
For lunch last Wednesday, Sept. 7, Choicelunch served two options of bagel dogs and coleslaw or hand-rolled beef enchiladas. Both choices came with pineapple slices and milk.
“I think the kids are really happy with it,” said Pam Baldwin, who runs the lunch program at Ocean Air School. “I love the lunches that they’re getting. I think they look healthy, fresh and good.”
Last year Baldwin didn’t think that the side dishes and entrees were as fresh and healthy as she would’ve liked.
“They also always had snacks or desserts at the end that seemed to me like filler,” Baldwin said.
This new program offers no desserts, no filler, she said.
Meals on the menu for the week of Sept. 26 included whole grain spaghetti marinara and sunflower seeds, chicken pot stickers with rice and carrots, baked potato with three bean chili and slow-simmered “Mighty Meatball Soup.”
At the lunch tables at Ocean Air, two students proclaimed the bagel dogs “pretty good” and enchiladas were being devoured. One kindergartner said her favorite part of the meal, the part she ate first, was the pineapple slice.
Baldwin said the first couple of weeks of school are traditionally slow for lunch orders as parents are getting the forms in but she has been pleasantly surprised at how many students are opting for the hot lunch.
“I think there are about as many orders in the first two weeks as last year in the middle of the program,” said Baldwin.
The biggest adjustment for the schools has been having the two options. Baldwin said they have had some challenges as kids need to bring cards to the table that indicate what option they have ordered and the younger kids need a little more help than the older kids at getting their correct lunch.
“I think we’ve had a great start with this vendor,” Mohanty said. “There’re still things we can improve on as far as the logistics of lunch distribution, especially for the smaller children.”
Logistics aside, the actual food has gathered a buzz.
Mohanty said that she is hearing good, unsolicited reviews from parents and teachers, as well as her own child.
“She likes all the food she’s had so far,” Mohanty said, saying the noodle soup and the macaroni and cheese were favorites.
Mohanty hopes school PTAs will help publicize the new program and boost sales even further.