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Rosedale school district beefs up lunch program

Students in the Rosedale Union School District may have noticed a few changes to their lunch menu this year.

The district is making some significant changes to its meal program, including partnering with the Kern High School District to provide fresher meals to students. Since the start of the new school year, KHSD has been making the food and delivering it to the schools.

Previously, the district would get pre-packaged, largely frozen meals, which would be warmed up and served to the students.

“This give students fresher options, more exciting menu choices,” said Superintendent John Mendiburu. “We’re moving away from typical cafeteria food. I think students see a difference.”

Some of the meals the students receive now include sandwiches, turkey corn dogs and quesadillas. Also this year, the district has expanded its salad bar option. The salad bar started being offered at Rosedale Middle School late last year. This is the first full school year the salad bar has been there.

In addition, Mendiburu said the district is piloting the salad bar at Patriot Elementary. Depending on how things go this year, the district could expand it to all schools.

With the salad bar, students get the option to have just a salad with some kind of protein such as chicken or ham, or they can have a simpler salad and also be able to have whatever the hot entree is for that day.

“I feel like it’s beneficial for the kids because it gives them a more distributed diet,” Rosedale Middle eighth-grader Camden Grohs said about the new entrees and salad option. “The new features makes it feel like the meals have been spiced up a bit. More kids are wanting to eat the hot lunches now rather than bringing their own lunches.”

When asked his opinion on the food students used to get, Grohs responded in a polite but honest manner.

“Those weren’t the best, I’ll put it that way. These ones are a lot better,” he said.

What’s been his favorite entree so far this year? The chili verde enchiladas, he said.

Although the partnership with KHSD has been in effect for nearly a month now, the agreement wasn’t officially approved until the Sept. 4 board meeting.

Mendiburu said the district began talks with KHSD on partnering for the program toward the end of the last school year. He said the district used to partner with KHSD for their lunch program in the past and wanted to do so again to provide better food to students.

KHSD Food Services Director Jennifer Davis said this is the first food partnership the district has had in several years.

Davis said the district has had to change around some of the staff’s schedules to accommodate RUSD and add the schools to their delivery routes, but otherwise there have been no significant impacts due to the agreement.

“I’m happy to give the students at Rosedale some better choices,” she said. “We’re going to do Rosedale and see how it works out. We may consider doing a partnership with other districts in the future.”

The partnership doesn’t just benefit the Rosedale district. Participation in the KHSD lunch program is likely to increase in the coming years as well.

Davis said she could tell in previous years that students from RUSD who came to the high schools were not happy with their meals there, as many of them don’t initially participate in the KHSD lunch program.

“They’re used to the kind of meal they were getting at the elementary and middle school levels, so it’s a big transition for them in high school,” she said. “Many of them were packing their meals when they came here. I think they’ll be more apt to eat our meals if they start it beginning with Rosedale.”

So far, the partnership appears to have been a success. Mendiburu said participation in the district’s lunch program has doubled this year.

Typically, each school has served meals to around 100 of the average 500 students at each school. This year, it has increased to around 200 students per school, and that’s despite a modest price increase for the hot meals.

Rosedale Middle Principal Becky Devahl said she’s noticed a big difference at her school.

“We used to see so much food go to waste because they just didn’t like it, but now they’re eating it,” she said.

Mendiburu said the meals used to cost $2.85 each but now cost a flat $3, to reflect the increase in quality. The salad bar option costs a little extra at $3.25 at Patriot Elementary and $3.50 at Rosedale Middle.

RUSD is planning to take its food program even further. In October, Mendiburu said the district plans to change it to be more of a buffet-style experience, in which food is made in bulk and students will get their food scooped onto their plate.

Currently, the students receive their food mostly in a packaged, individual form.

“We eventually want to get away from any kind of packaged food,” he said. “The goal is to have more fresh, appetizing food. We want to continue to enhance our food program.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 661-395-7368. Follow him on Twitter: @JLuiz_TBC.

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