By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
Palisades Charter High School is overhauling the way it feeds students this year, partnering with a new vendor—and bringing back a familiar face to the lunchroom—that it hopes will make students happier and healthier.
The school catering company Chartwells K12 has taken over Pali High’s kitchen and brought back a beloved former Pali High staff member, Cecilia Ramirez, as director of dining services.
Chartwells is promising both healthier and more attractive fare—a tall order for a company tasked with feeding finicky teens.
“It’s my obligation to get them the missing nutrients, vitamins and minerals they’re lacking,” said Chartwells District Manager Annette Boussina, but also “to encourage curiosity about their food—where it’s grown, how and by whom.”
Boussina told the Palisadian-Post that her passion for school nutrition is personal.
She was a restaurateur when she sent her own son to grade school, and she was appalled by the largely processed, sugar-rich options he was served in the cafeteria.
She made the transition to school dining services shortly after and has been rolling out lunch programs at schools like Pali High ever since.
Boussina positively beams when she describes the school’s new menu options: orange chicken with broccoli and brown rice, flatbread sandwiches, seasonal fruits and vegetables, smoothies, salads, and parfaits among them.
Yes, pizza too—though Boussina assures it’s made in-house, not “heat and serve” from an outside caterer.
That’s a focus of Chartwells’ approach in general, she said. It’s “home-style cooking,” with most of the items made by Chartwells themselves.
The program is brand new, and at a presentation to Pali’s Board of Trustees last month, both Boussina and board members acknowledged that challenges remain in familiarizing students with the new menu, balancing supply and demand, and shepherding students toward healthier choices.
The school welcomed back Ramirez, a longtime lunchroom staff member who had departed in recent years, to help guide that process.
“She’s a wonderful asset,” Boussina said. “The school and the students know her and absolutely love her.”
And the school’s lunch program will go beyond serving food, she promised.
Boussina said that Chartwells offers curriculum for a culinary arts program, “teaching gardens” for education on seasonal eating and other ancillary services that can incorporate nutritional learning in the classroom.
They’ll be organizing an on-campus farmers market for students in September.
Boussina said it’s all part of a more holistic approach to the school cafeteria—“a huge opportunity to feed our children in mind, body and soul.”