Hamilton City School District in Ohio is joining the food truck parade. The district will become one of the latest to deploy a mobile dining alternative to its school sites when its vehicle begins its rounds this fall.
The truck is scheduled to visit all 12 district schools on a regular basis to serve as a lunch alternative during the school year—at least until the weather makes that impractical. Hamilton, located north of Cincinnati, has an enrollment of just under 10,000 students, of which almost three-quarters qualify for free or reduced price meals under federal school meal guidelines. The nutrition department already serves nearly 15,000 meals daily during the school year.
What will make the Hamilton City Schools truck somewhat unusual is that Cinde Gorbandt, the district’s senior director of dining services for management company Chartwells, is determined to use the truck as a platform for delivering rudimentary cooking and healthy eating lessons to students.
“Because [many of] the parents of the kids in the community don’t cook, the kids don’t [even] know how to boil water, so my goal is to have cooking classes with our district chef,” she explains.
There were already several such sessions toward the end of last year, though not off the food truck, to demonstrate such simple techniques as how to make eggs on a stove, in a microwave and in a conventional oven, “so they can have several ways they can take care of themselves,” Gorbandt offers.
Other sessions may focus on practical eating advice. For example, she cites one student who had told her that his family regularly eats at McDonald’s and his question was, what can he order there that’s healthy. “So that could be a topic,” Gorbandt says.
Introducing the kids to new fruits and vegetables isn’t as much of an issue because the district has already been doing a good job of that. “We’ve had jicama here for the last six years,” Gorbandt says proudly. Even at the elementary schools, the daily lunch offering regularly includes a fully stocked food bar with eight hot vegetables and eight cold fruits. There are also daily salad specials like strawberry romaine or tomato spinach, so even the youngest students are routinely exposed to a variety of produce in various forms.
Gorbandt says she hopes to conduct the educational sessions on the truck as often as possible. “Anytime we can get it out there to a school, we’ll have it out there,” she says. “My goal is to have it to at least one school a week and more often if we can,” though she concedes that that may be difficult initially because of the traditional hectic nature of a new school year’s launch.
“The first couple weeks will be crazy, but then we’ll get into a groove and then we’ll start,” she vows.
During lunchtimes, the truck will make regular stops, visiting each district school at least a couple of times a month, with one stop per day. Fridays will initially be Flip Fridays where the truck will “flip” burgers, pancakes and sandwiches at high school sites. The rest of the schedule will fill out with other sites, including the district primary schools.
The truck menu will have four entrée (two hot, two cold) choices a day that duplicate what is on the district menu for that day. The truck is not meant to be a menu alternative, but rather an additional serving point that is there “as a treat,” as Gorbandt describes it.
Some production—such as the burgers—will be done on the truck to emphasize the freshly prepared nature of the meals, though there will be some preproduction done at the high school from which the truck will embark daily. For example, the cole slaw served with the burgers will be made beforehand in the high school kitchen.
Weather will, of course, be a factor as winter sets in, but Gorbandt hopes disruptions will be minimal. “We have a Chartwells site in Indianapolis with a truck and they told me they could usually get through November,” she says.
She plans to keep the truck ready so that even if it has to be put away through a stretch of bad weather it can be rolled out as soon as temperatures improve.