Del Mar USD in San Diego is a small public K-6 school district with eight schools (one currently closed for renovations) and around 3,800 students. This fall, the district received a waiver from the state to open for in-person classes for students whose families’ choose that option, and about two-thirds of students are consequently taking in-person classes five days a week, with the rest doing at-home learning full-time (there are no split schedules).
To provide meal service, Del Mar relies on ChoiceLunch, a California-based provider of school meals that offers clients mobile preordering of customized school meals that it produces in its own kitchens and delivers to school sites.
Del Mar, with no food production facilities of its own, has been contracting with ChoiceLunch for the past nine years, but previously, the meals (lunch only) were all delivered to the schools ready to be served from the ChoiceLunch kitchen in Anaheim along with a few extras for last-minute requests. The school would then provide, beverages and fruits/vegetables to fill out the meals.
This fall’s remote learning option has forced ChoiceLunch to adapt, and it has done that by introducing a five-meal box option for online students that is also available by preorder and can be picked up each Monday at the child’s school.
“It’s worked out great,” says Michelle Bothe, administrative assistant for business services with Del Mar USD. “I would say we’re mostly serving the free and reduced who are learning from home with the box program. They’re beautiful lunches in which they get their entrée, their milk, their fruits and vegetables.”
Also new this year from ChoiceLunch is its A La Carte platform, which allows families to fully customize each meal, including the extra components like the fruit and vegetable sides.
“It lets the parents choose every item for the child,” explains Bothe. “All the components are then separately wrapped and put in a bag with the child’s name then they’re just matched together when the child gets to school.”
The ordering can be done up to five weeks in advance on the ChoiceLunch app, where parents set up a declining balance account and then choose each meal’s components from the online menu along with the day it is to be delivered. The menu includes nutritional information as well as information about allergens so parents can avoid those that may affect their child.
Despite its low poverty level—the free/reduced percentage among its students is around 13%—Del Mar participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and all of ChoiceLunch’s meals conform to the program’s requirements.
“We’ve had many [NSLP] audits since we’ve been with them and we go through them with flying colors,” Bothe notes, adding that the food reminds her of packaged meals at premium grocer Trader Joe’s. “The burgers look like they’re fresh off the grill,” she adds.
Despite that, participation in the low-poverty district has never been especially high—it normally runs around 20%, Bothe says, as most students prefer to bring their own lunches—but it still represents a fair amount of volume for ChoiceLunch. For instance, the district last year was on track to serve about 160,000 meals until COVID forced the schools to close. Also, because meals are preordered, production is efficient with almost no waste.