Revamped HUSD Food Program

Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe revamped Hughson Unified food program
Posted on 10/15/2019
Photo of salad barIf parents of Hughson Unified students were to set foot in the cafeteria at lunchtime or after school, they may not recognize what’s on the menu. That’s because food services Jonathan Kneiss has spiced up what food is available and how it’s served.

Sure, old favorites like cheeseburgers, pizza, hot dogs, PB&J and chicken nuggets remain.

But today’s youngsters – from kindergarten through high school – also can choose from Asian chicken salads with Mandarin oranges, baked potato and nacho bars, an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, spinach wraps with an assortment of fillings and even a budding favorite – chicken with waffles, pancakes or French toast.

Even the traditional hot dog can be spiced up by adding a 4-ounce cup of chili to dip it in.

Can you say delicious?

“We’re trying to do a lot of little things to make it cool,” said Kneiss, now in his second year running the district’s food programs.

Daily sales clearly indicate that Kneiss and his 15-member team are doing something right. Here’s the breakdown by campus in September:

Hughson Elementary: 1,600 breakfasts and 4,600 lunches
Fox Road Elementary: 1,200 breakfasts and 3,500 lunches
Ross Middle School: 2,200 breakfasts and 2,900 lunches
Hughson High: 2,100 breakfasts and 2,900 lunches

And those numbers don’t even include the hundreds of meals – called supper – that are served each day as part of the district’s comprehensive after school program.

“We’re putting a lot of food out,” said Kneiss with a smile. “It’s more work, but the kids are excited and my staff is excited.”

On a recent Wednesday, the Asian bar was a huge hit with students of all ages.

“It looked like Panda Express in here,” said Assistant  Superintendent Carrie Duckart. “There were chicken dishes and rice and egg rolls. It was great.”

At Ross, the loaded bake potato bar has been “a big hit,” according to Kneiss. All the campuses now have salad bars that include fresh fruit. And the snack shacks at Ross and Hughson High get plenty of traffic during breaks and at lunch, tempting students with healthy chips, fruit slushies and fresh-baked cookies.

In addition to invigorating the menu, Kneiss introduced an online payment option for parents. They can pre-load an account with money that their sons and daughters can tap into to buy meals -- $1.75 for breakfast and $2.50 to $3 for lunch. The system automatically alerts parents when the balance is getting low, which sometimes happens unexpectedly when an impish student decides to treat his or her friends to ice cream after lunch.

Parents can sign up for the payment program by going to the district website. Use the pull-down menu to click on “Departments” and then “Food Services” to find the “EZ School Pay” button.

At the elementary campuses and at Ross, the after-school meals are free, subsidized by state and federal grants Kneiss has applied for and received. In the old days, those meals might have included graham crackers or bags of goldfish crackers. Today, it feature a single items that changes daily – rib sandwiches with a cucumber salad, maple waffles with sausage links, cheeseburgers with chips, chicken nuggets and potato wedges, nachos with refried beans and a side chili lime carrots, chicken burritos and corn dogs. 

There’s plenty more … and that’s good, Duckart joked, because “the kids are ravenous after school.”

Kneiss’ responsibilities extend to recycling. He began a program this year across the district that includes working with ag students at the high school to create a compost pile.

“Even our kindergarten students are learning to recycle,” said Duckart.
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