Kermit McKenzie Junior High School in Guadalupe continues to build momentum transforming the cafeteria into a place where students and faculty eagerly enjoy a great meal daily. This comes from the teamwork of the Guadalupe School Board, Superintendent Ed Cora, Principal Sal Reynoso, the Food Service Department, and head cook Ursula Guererro, who along with her staff has put the team’s vision on the plate.
The history of the meatball sub presents an example of the challenge of transforming school food, and a lesson in how schools can help each other be successful. It took a while to get this particular entrée on the plate at this school. Why? Because everyone involved in school decisions takes their responsibility seriously, and change does not come easily to people obsessed with the health and safety of children in their care. They need proof that change is for the better. Fortunately, proof is available.
According to School Food Initiative Chef Instructor Kirsten Criswell, “I had seen this sandwich become a success with students in Lompoc and Santa Maria. When I suggested it to Guadalupe, I thought that it would be a slam-dunk. Kids would love it, participation would go up, and Food Service would have another crowd-pleaser on their hands. But they were hesitant, so I suggested to Guadalupe that they connect with the Food Service Departments at Lompoc and Santa Maria-Bonita School Districts, and asked them to reach out to their neighbors to see how they do it. What recipe do they use? Which meatballs? What bread?”
Guadalupe made the effort to network with neighboring Districts to gather information. They were able to source a quality meatball used by the other Districts, as well as the whole grain hoagie roll (which really upgrades the sandwich and is very noticeable to the kids: it “looks like what I get at Subway,” and meets the new National School Lunch Program meal requirements), and, last but not least, they use cooked-from-scratch School Food Initiative Marinara Sauce. When the Meatball Sub debuted, Principal Reynoso made announcements the day before and day of to generate interest, and this sparked participation. Superintendent Cora came over between meetings to see what was cooking in the kitchen. As a former principal in the Santa Maria-Bonita district, he knew the sandwich and loved it too. It was his suggestion to top it with a little mozzarella cheese, not only for taste but visual appeal too. Most teachers purchased the lunch that day. Administrative personnel from the District office drove across town to buy lunch.
The salad bar is now offered daily at Kermit McKenzie, with from-scratch School Food Initiative Ranch Dressing. The “fries” shown on the plate in the top picture are actually jicama sticks, squeezed with fresh lemon juice and seasoned lightly with salt and chili powder. The kids just love them. This innovative school has stopped serving chocolate milk and sugary desserts, but offers so many new options, no one has asked, “where did they go?”