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School Meals Get a Local Twist

Locally made tofu, tortilla chips and soft pretzels served up for students to enjoy

Eugene School District 4J is offering a new twist on school meals.

The district’s nutrition services department took over management of student meal service this year after relying on outside vendors for more than two decades. Goals in moving school food management in-house include improving food quality, increasing scratch-made items when feasible, reducing use of highly processed foods, and expanding purchase of locally grown produce.

The move goes beyond the farmstand and also opens up a bounty of locally made foods available to students across the district.

They include soft pretzels from Reality Kitchen, which have proven to be popular with students. Other local purchases include tofu and tempeh from Surata Soy Foods, tortilla chips from Carmen’s Chips, and a baking mix, used to bake morning muffins and other items, from Camas Country Mill, all businesses located in Eugene.

These local partnerships and other menu changes ensure 4J students have access to nutritious foods that taste better and contain fewer unwanted additives—such as sugar, salt, and artificial flavors and preservatives. Research suggests a healthy diet can improve students’ academic performance and behavior and reduce classroom absences.

Providing enough local food to the district to feed about 10,000 meals to hungry students each day is a big economic boost for the local businesses and organizations. “We want to support businesses that are here in town,” said Jose Alvarez, 4J nutrition services co-manager.

A supported staff member at Reality Kitchen prepares soft pretzel dough for baking.But the benefits to the community go well beyond the economic, including providing job training for former 4J students.

Reality Kitchen is a local nonprofit that provides job skills training to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, most of whom attended 4J schools in the past.

The soft pretzels baked for 4J students are a new version of the original recipe—with more whole-grain flour— that has been a popular staple at Reality Kitchen for years.

The supported staff in the program are involved in every step of the soft pretzel’s preparation—mixing, twisting, baking, packing and delivering, said Jim Evangelista, the kitchen’s founder and executive director.

“Being a local nonprofit organization that has been selected to serve students in our community is an honor, and we are delighted to be chosen to produce this unique product,” he said.

Evangelista estimates the kitchen has delivered more than 10,000 pretzels since the beginning of the school year.

Jill Cuadros, 4J nutrition services co-manager, said her staff worked with Reality Kitchen and Camas Country Mill on about 20 different iterations of the recipes for pretzels and baking mix to achieve the best taste and nutritional value.

The investment is paying off.

“We have had kids who didn’t eat tofu and are now eating tofu—because we sourced a really good tofu,” Alvarez said. “It tastes good.”

Learn more

4J Nutrition Services News 

Online Menus and Nutrition Information

School Meal Menus (printable PDFs, subject to change)

January Elementary Menu (y en español)
January Middle School Menu
January High School Menu

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