Gustine students and staff can look forward to updated school cafeteria menus next school year.
The current pre-packaged heat ‘n’ serve items, which became the norm in recent years, will be replaced with homemade fresh-from-scratch selections created in a district central kitchen.
Superintendent Dr. Bryan Ballenger said the upgrade stems from requests made by parents, staff and students for a better quality of food to be served from the school cafeterias.
He and the school board had been discussing ideas about what to do with the old middle school site. Transforming the unused kitchen and cafeteria into a central kitchen capable of producing fresh meals for the entire district, made sense.
This and next year’s budget has room to make such a project feasible, Ballenger noted. The steps were put into motion.
Derivi Castellanos Architectures submitted proposed plans for the project to the district in December. The Gustine Unified School Board approved an agreement with DCA at the Jan. 11 board meeting. With the green light in place, all going well, the new meal system will be operating by this time next year.
There are many stages to complete to get there.
Once the physical work starts, the existing kitchen and cafeteria at the old middle school will essentially be gutted and remodeled to house a large working kitchen complete with dry, refrigerated and frozen storage among other facility necessities.
Ballenger explained the structure itself will not change, all the work will be interior. Inside walls will be moved, for example, to open up a greater space. The preparation and cooking area alone is proposed to span between 1850 - 2050 square feet.
The central kitchen will be just as it sounds; a
hub where recipes are made in mass quantities and properly prepared for bulk transportation to each school where the entrees and side dishes are then assembled in each site’s kitchen.
All meal components will be prepared daily using fresh, healthy ingredients and cooked, and/or baked in the central kitchen for the entire school district. The district estimates the new kitchen will be cooking 1,700 to 2,000 meals daily including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The elements of each meal will be transported in bulk to each school to then be assembled on the spot for serving.
“For example, a bean and cheese burrito,” Ballenger described. Instead of coming from a bag and being reheated, a fresh tortilla will be hand folded onsite using grated cheese and beans that were made fresh that morning in the central kitchen. That’s just one example.
The new menu has not been determined yet but Ballenger said he can’t wait until the current pre-packaged food is no longer used and the students are served homemade meals.
The goal is to teach the whole child, that all their needs are met, the Superintendent expressed. And for him that includes making sure each student has a meal that is warm, healthy, fresh and from scratch.