Coupeville School District’s new lunch program has been making waves with the hire of skilled chef Andreas Wurzrainer, formerly of Christopher’s Restaurant, and a major switch in the type of food served up to students.
The public will have a chance to try exactly what students are being served in the school’s Connected Food Program.
The first community dinner and fundraiser is 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at the Coupeville Middle/High School cafeteria, right before the rivalry football game against South Whidbey High School at 7 p.m.
Superintendent Steve King said they’ll likely do a community dinner every month to a month and a half, before school events such as sports games and drama productions.
Cafeteria food may have a bad, rather greasy rap, but that’s changing in Coupeville. The new food program emphasizes fresh, close-to-home, from-scratch cooking and touts a “harvest of the month.”
For students, it looks like a detailed blackboard and signs with descriptions of what they’re being served and where it’s from and includes options for a salad bar, smoothies, fruit, sandwiches and more.
So far, the new, fresher menu has received good reviews from students and teachers, including the appreciation of eighth grader Alex Clark.
“It feels like I’m going to a restaurant every day,” Clark said, as he ate a meal of 3 Sisters Bolognese over penne along with a fresh spinach salad.
He said this year’s lunch food is better than last year’s and healthier too. “Better and better,” Clark said.
It’s also more expensive for the school, but it’s been double the participation from last year, according to King.
“Participation has gone up in all of our schools,” he said. Prices for the students remain unchanged from the year prior, so fundraising dinners and community support will help support the program.
Community food partners currently include 3 Sisters, Pioneer Farm, Little Red Hen Bakery, Bell’s Farm and Prairie Bottom Farm.
King said there’s been an impact on school culture, with fewer students leaving the open high school campus during lunchtime. “(It’s) building a better community” he said.
And free and reduced-priced lunch kids are getting “an amazing, nutritious meal, they didn’t have before,” King added.
“It has exceeded expectations, he said.
As for the new director of food services Wurzrainer, said he’s been enjoying serving up the new smorgasbord of school stew.
He has decades of experience as a gourmet chef around the world and is passionate about bringing good nutrition to the students along with the others on the food service team. Wurzrainer works at the school full-time.
“I think it’s been going really well from my perspective,” he said.
They work to plan out each month’s menu, juggling a balancing act of not scaring off children with unrecognizable food, but planning healthy options that are still attractive to youth.
Deconstructing is one way to make it work, Wurzrainer said. Sauces on the side, breaking down the components of a meal, making it appealing for the eyes.
He bemoans the lack of cooking skills being taught to children today, and as someone passionate about good food, he hopes introducing students early to healthy menus will set them up for a healthy life.
“We have to break this wheel we’ve created for ourselves,” he said.
With the emphasis on sustainability, the school no longer uses single-use plastics, and now uses reusable plates and bowls.
The youth are using real silverware now because “they’re real people,” he said.
“It’s sending a message to the kids. Everything comes full circle.”
Wurzrainer said he’s seen that the kids are in a good mood when they come through the lunch line and hopes that more support from the Coupeville community will come.
“This community on every level seems to care,” he said. The community dinners will be true to what food staff are serving, so now the public will have a “chance to judge us,” he said.
The schedule for the future community dinners will be posted to the Connected Food Program’s social media pages, including on Facebook.