Hot Lunch Is Cool Napa’s Operative for School Food Health
When was the last time you ate a school hot lunch? That long huh? I challenge you to join your child at any one of the 28 Napa Unified School District cafeterias from American Canyon to Yountville to taste the delicious difference from when you and I were kids.
Since fall 2017 NOSH (Napa’s Operative for School Food Health), formerly NVUSD Food Service, has offered healthy, fresh, delicious food to students from K to 12th using as many local, organic and hormone free products as possible.
In partnership with the Life Time Foundation, NVUSD implemented a clean-label initiative, which helps schools remove the “Harmful 7” from student breakfast and lunch menus: trans fats and hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, hormones and antibiotics in animal production, added and artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors, artificial preservatives and bleached flour.
This was no easy feat. For over three decades, NVUSD school lunches were outsourced to a food service management company. That changed when Brandy Dreibelbis was hired as Director of Food Services in July of 2017. Previously, Dreibelbis was the Executive Chef of the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, one of the leading school districts in the country for providing healthy school lunches.
So what is on the menu? Organic, hyper-local sourced ingredients, which include Foster Farms hormone and antibiotic free chicken, Straus Creamery organic milk (either 1% or fat-free), and organic, pasture raised, non-GMO beef from Mindful Meats (Sonoma and Marin). Kid friendly items, there are 30 different options on a six week rotation, include Green Chile & Cheese Tamales; Nachos with Organic Cheese Sauce; Chicken Street Tacos; Hamburger Patties; Roasted Chicken on the Bone; and Pulled Pork Sandwiches. All schools offer full salad bars, featuring all California produce, except bananas and jicama. There’s always a Harvest of the Month option available daily at the school’s unlimited salad bars. In February, it’s navel oranges.
The Chicken Posole is a huge hit with the NVUSD Administration Office, whose staff buys it for lunch when it’s on the menu at Napa High. According to Dreibelbis, “It’s great that teachers and staff are enjoying the food. If they are, the message will trickle down to the students.” To further commutate the message, Dreibelbis initiated “The NOSH News,” a monthly newsletter sent via text to parents who are signed up to receive NVUSD texts via Parent Square. It’s also available online at nvusd.k12.ca.us/nosh.
Sustainability is also on the menu, and this includes brand new self-serve milk machines in four schools, with more schools to follow. Single serve milk packages, replaced by bulk milk dispensers, eliminate waste and enable students who purchase lunch to help themselves to unlimited fresh, cold, delicious Straus Creamery organic milk.
The key here is encouraging students to buy lunch so the newly revamped health conscious program can continue. This means educating families about NOSH, so instead of packing their student’s lunch, they’ll buy the healthy alternatives now offered at school. When Bill Benck’s son Jenson kept raving about the great hot lunches he was getting at Vichy Elementary, Benck was skeptical, so he tried it himself. “It was extremely good and reasonably priced.”
A healthy hot lunch is $3.25 at the elementary level and $3.50 at middle and high schools. For those schools that serve breakfast, the cost is $1.25 for elementary school students and $1.50 for middle and high school students. There is also a free and reduced meal program available for NVUSD families who qualify, which make up approximately half of the lunches served throughout the district on a daily basis. According to Dreibelbis, “There are a large number of food insecure families in Napa County and it’s important that we are taking care of them at school.” Ideally, the way to ensure that kids continue to receive a nutritious meal is for more families to incorporate buying hot lunches into their weekly schedule. And educating families about the new program helps. “We want to make school lunch cool again,” says Dreibelbis.
Another way to support NOSH is through the program’s catering department, one of Napa’s best-kept secrets, but not for long. Available for special events and occasions of all sizes, catering through NOSH brings extra revenue to the program’s bottom line, and helps garner exposure to the local community. Best of all, the food is healthy, nutritious, delicious and affordable. Menu items span from breakfast to dinner and include boxed lunches, party platters and full service buffets. Delivery is available as well. Check out their catering menu and program details at nvusd.org/fscatering, and give it a try. You’ll join some of your Napa neighbors who are clients including Napa Can Do, Van Pelt Construction and the Napa County Hispanic Network.
2019 will be a busy year for Dreibelbis and her dedicated staff. In early January they celebrated the opening of a finishing kitchen at Willow Elementary, the first of 15 brand new or remodeled kitchens to be completed throughout the district. Each kitchen will include a dual combi oven, hotbox, steam well, dish machine, refrigerator/freezer, brand new salad bar and a bulk milk machine. These kitchens will allow food to be prepped and prepared in a central kitchen and then finished on site so that it is hot and fresh (and therefore more delicious) when it’s served. The District’s current central kitchen will be replaced later this year with a brand new facility on Menlo Avenue.
Ready for the challenge? If you have a student attending a NVUSD school, take time out of your day on Thursday, February 28 and join your child for lunch. The menu will feature roast turkey with mashed potatoes, Veggie Quesadillas and chicken salad wrap (middle and high schools). Help make hot lunch cool in the Napa Valley.