Poway Unified School District

Goodbye, frozen pizza: Poway Unified school cafeterias take farm-fresh approach

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s still quiet at Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway. Students don't return to the classroom for another day.

But behind the scenes, the work has begun.

“Tomorrow is going to be insane and intense and we’re going to be serving tons of student customers,” said Michael Tun, area supervisor of the Food Distribution Department at Meadowbrook Middle School.

What they’ll be serving may surprise you. It’s not your typical frozen pizza and chicken nuggets.

“Here we have the carnitas street tacos made with marinated pork,” said Tun.”It’s a clean-label pork.”

On the menu this fall are BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, habanero-mango chicken wings and spicy chicken wraps.

“Every entree comes with a selection of fresh foods and vegetables,” Tun said.

A surge of nearly $15 billion in state and federal funding has allowed California school districts to not only buy fresher local ingredients, but to train staff and remodel kitchens.

“We’ve got some equipment that has been out of commission for years but there was no funding to replace it and we’re finally in a position where we can really bring all of those to current state-of-the-art equipment,” said Emily Cena, director of food and nutrition at the Poway Unified School District.

The move to healthier school meals comes on the heels of California’s universal meals program that provides breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of their parent's income.

“Compared to pre-pandemic times, we’re now serving twice as many lunches as we did before,” said Cena.

Just at Meadowbrook alone, cafeteria staff are feeding 600 to 650 students every day.  

“Families really appreciate that extra time in the morning that they are not having to put together the meal. They know that there is a well-balanced meal at school at no cost,” Cena said.

So far the staff says they haven't had any complaints.

“School nutrition today is a very different landscape than it was maybe a generation ago,” Cena said.

And the plan is to continue moving forward, away from frozen pizza and more towards gourmet.

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