Food Management Digizine - Q2 2023


Marygrace Taylor

Mobile option serves up scratch-made food while easing cafeteria lines

At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, home-cooked meals are now being served on wheels. The 86-school district, which serves 65,000 students, recently launched the VBScratch food truck, which serves scratch-made fare at lunchtime. “Our goal is not only to serve our students tasty, healthy, and scratch- cooked meals, but also to provide them with nutrition education so they can build lifelong healthy habits,” says Viorica Harrison, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Office of Food Services Director. “The food truck is another creative school serving line and a vehicle to promote school nutrition programs and increase student meal participation.” VBScratch, the district’s scratch-cooking initiative, has been running since 2017. When an opportunity came up to purchase and retrofit a used white pony truck from the city’s Department of Transportation, the district jumped at the chance to transform it into a food truck that could serve lunch at the district’s 12 high schools. Cafeteria lines at the high schools, which each had between 1,500 and 2,000 students, were long, and there wasn’t always enough time for students to eat after getting their food. “We thought, we could start using the food truck as an extra service line and invite some of the kids to eat outside in the courtyard,” Harrison said. To purchase the vehicle and convert it into a food truck, Harrison and her team obtained grant funding from No Kid Hungry and the Hansen Family Foundation and were allotted additional money from school funds. Then the pandemic hit. As was the case in so many

school districts nationwide, many Virginia Beach City Public School students relied on cafeteria meals as a key source of nutrition. With in-person school closed, the truck was utilized to deliver meals to underserved families who otherwise may not have had access. Eventually regular in-person sessions started back up. And Harrison and her team resumed their food truck plans. Once the conversion process was complete, “we ended up with this amazing food truck that’s a representation of our cafeteria kitchen,” she says. “We have warmers, a generator, a fridge, a griddle a two- compartment sink, a combi oven, and the table we serve everything on.” The truck is also equipped with WiFi, which makes it easy to maintain the cashless transaction system and access information about student lunch accounts (like who has free lunch status or a food allergy). The intent, Harrison explains, was to have a food truck kitchen that could function entirely on its own. “It’s set up to be a school kitchen, so we can make the same thing we’re making in the cafeteria,” she says. (For big events, though, they’ll sometimes prep food ahead of time in the cafeteria.) The food truck made its debut at Green Run High School on April 5 after passing its inspections. The goal is to stop at a different high school each week and serve the same from-scratch meal being offered that day in the cafeteria. “We’ll coordinate with the cafeteria, so we’ll bring the truck over on days when we know we’ll be serving something that’s easy for us to make on the truck,” Harrison says. Grab-and-go options like pulled pork

Virginia Beach City Public Schools foodservice staffers beside the VBScratch food truck on opening day.

sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, loaded tater tots, and pizza are popular menu items that are also easy to prep on the truck. The warmers also make it possible to serve their from-scratch macaroni and cheese with smoked paprika. The truck is currently operated by three existing foodservice staffers. Harrison is hoping that next year’s budget will allow for two positions specifically allocated for the food truck. “But if not, we can make it work with folks who are already employed,” she says. Only a few weeks into its run, the VBScratch food truck has already proven to be a big hit. “The students think it’s amazing. They think the food from the truck tastes so much better, which is funny because it’s the same,” says Harrison, adding that she’s been meeting with students to get more ideas for future menu items. The goal is to ramp up high school visits to two to three times a week, and hopefully, to continue the program through the colder winter months. “If we get some requests from the middle school and facility has the outside space to accommodate us, we’ll also go there,” Harrison says.


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