Scratch Cooking For Compton Unified School DistrictTue 31 May 2011
Story by The Food Revolution Team
Tracie Thomas is the Director of Nutrition Services for the Compton Unified School District. From the minute she took the position, she eliminated the serving of strawberry milk at all campuses in the district with the strike of a pen. From that day forth, no more strawberry flavored sweetened milk was ordered or served to the Compton Unified school children. This year she removed chocolate milk from breakfast as a district-wide policy. Next year, she plans to permanently remove it from lunch. It may come as a surprise to some that the kids are not drinking less milk; in fact, purchase is up!
Tracie’s mission to remove sugary milk from schools has been accompanied with the launch of a scratch cooking program – a scheme devised to facilitate the serving of fresher, more nutritious, homemade lunches to her pupils. This is in contrast to the pre-made, processed food that would previously arrive frozen, ready to be plunged in to the deep-fryer!
Tracie originally hails from the quick service food industry. After successfully training in the private sector and running her own restaurant in Texas, she came back to California and became inspired to transfer her skill-set from restaurant to school cafeteria. She went to work first as a dedicated, full-time volunteer with fresh school food legend, Rodney Taylor, founder of Farm to School and was quickly tapped to serve as his Assistant Director for Nutrition Services at the Santa Monica Malibu School District. Drawing on her expert mentorship and her own training in the private sector, Tracie became known for her efficiency innovation and rapid conversion of raw ingredients to food.
School districts receive a set amount of money to go towards USDA foods. Schools can either receive the foods (commodities) directly from the USDA, referred to as “brown box” foods, or have them sent to a processor first. On becoming Director of Nutrition Services for Compton district, Tracie knew she wanted a Farmer’s Market grade product, “I know that a strawberry, an orange, or asparagus stalk from the farmers market tastes different than a store product.” So she called West Central, the commodity food distributor and asked what it would take for them to find a Farmer’s Market partner. Within 12 months, they were working together to plan out a nine school pilot program.
The USDA “brown box” program costs $1.75 per meal, so instead of buying all processed food, Tracie transferred a portion of her budget directly to her scratch cooking purchasing power, combining the very best of commodity food and scratch cooking to create new healthy and affordable recipes.
Through her program dubbed “SNS F.R.E.S.H.” – School Nutrition Service Farm Raised Especially for Student Health – Tracie currently serves local scratch food in each of the 39 schools in Compton Unified, two days a week and her aim is to get this to five!
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