Santa Cruz (CA) City Schools trustees have voted to begin scratch cooking of all middle school lunches beginning in December, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel. They deferred the decision to extend the initiative to elementary and high schools in the district until their next meeting in mid-November.
The move was made following a report that the foodservice department deficit will grow by $320,000 more than anticipated under the current approach, which uses an outside meals provider to deliver breakfasts and lunches to the district cafeterias. That arrangement, initiated this fall, was to be a transition step until the district could convert to in-house scratch cooking of all school meals under newly hired executive chef Jamie Smith.
However, the meals program using the services of Revolution Foods, an Oakland-based firm that produces and delivers fresh meals made with locally grown ingredients, has cost more than anticipated and prompted an unforeseen drop in participation, which has shrunk revenues.
Santa Cruz was determined to convert its deficit-ridden traditional meals program, which had relied on preprocessed food and had to be subsidized by some half million dollars annually, into one that offered fresher and more appealing choices that could drive more participation and generate more revenues. To that end, this past summer it hired Smith, who had served as chef de cuisine and executive sous chef at the University of California-Santa Cruz and also operated his own commercial restaurant in the city.
Smith’s mandate was to establish a scratch cooking program for the district, but because of the financial and operational challenges, Revolution Foods was hired to provide fresh, healthy school meal dishes in the interim. To account for the increased costs—estimated at around $740,000 annually—the district raised meal prices from $1.50 to $2 for breakfast and from $2.50 to $3.25 for lunch at the elementary and from $3 to $3.50 for lunch at the middle schools. (The high school program prices remained the same.)