The pizza Jamie Smith and his Food Services staff are making for students on every Santa Cruz City Schools campus is so popular he has designated Friday the one day of the week when students can order it. He calls it Fun Friday.

But pizza is not the only popular item on the menu these days. Since Mission Hill students petitioned Smith for more choices, every day at lunch middle school students can order a variety of deli sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, salads, burgers, and more. Food Services staff is cooking in several school kitchens around the district, and providing students at every site with scratch-cooked meals. Even the burgers are made with whole-wheat flour and fresh, organic local produce.  Nutrition Manager Smith calls it “stealth health”.

Nutrition Manager Jamie Smith carves wood oven baked pizza at Harvest Festival

Since switching to scratch cooking, Santa Cruz City Schools has seen the number of students participating in the lunch program jump; in mid-November Mission Hill served 187 lunches, compared to 140 in September. This number, which is expected to rise, is critical to a school lunch program the district aims to be financially sustainable.

Since the district made the switch, the lunch line at Branciforte Middle School has doubled, but that’s a good problem to have. Students are already calling their choices by name. For the Branciforte Bees those include the Queen Bee Quesadilla, the Hive Shaker Salad, and the Stinger Burger.

Another popular item is the Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl, served in a sustainable cardboard takeout container. The quesadilla is also popular. Made on a whole-wheat tortilla with grilled chicken, low-fat low-sodium cheese, black beans, and salsa, it has, as Smith says, “four meal components.” Smith says whole fruit still presents a challenge so he’s contemplating a cookie-cutter-style fruit station, where students can cut their fruit into shapes and compost the cores.

For the students who are still ordering burgers because that’s what they’re used to, Smith has more in store for them than just a “stealth health” whole-wheat bun: he has been holding tastings at various schools. His latest was at Bay View, where he gave away a hackey-sack to any kid who would taste the local Wildwood tofu. He cooked the tofu with fresh organic vegetables, and the students, many tasting tofu for the first time, said it “tasted like candy.” Lunch doesn’t get much better than that.


Want to learn more about local and national changes to school meals? Bookmark our news page for daily updates, like this story about tainted beef reaching public schools.