OAKLAND – On the combination plate of problems plaguing the USA’s public schools, few are as intractable as this: Can you serve fresh, healthful meals each day to millions of kids without breaking the bank, or must you resort to serving up deep-fried, processed, less expensive junk?
For more than a decade, big food thinkers have chewed on this, making it a cause célèbre. But most often they find that feeding kids well requires one simple thing: more money.
The federal government pays, on average, $2.68 per child per meal – and most food advocates say that simply isn’t enough. A few insist it can’t be done for less than $5.
So it’s big news when someone tries, even on a small scale, to feed kids well for under $3 a pop.
An all-natural meal
For the first time, a small, privately held start-up is pushing to do just that: producing what are by all accounts fresh, healthful, all-natural school meals for just under $3 apiece. Starting with just one school in spring 2006, Revolution Foods has quietly grown year by year and now delivers about 45,000 breakfasts, lunches and snacks daily to 235 public and private schools in California, Colorado and the District of Columbia .
Since April, about 14,000 of those meals each day have come from a 22,000-square-foot facility in an Oakland industrial park.
The growth is impressive, but what’s perhaps most striking is what the meals look and taste like – and the rogues’ gallery of components (fries, canned green beans, cling peaches in heavy syrup) that are missing.
Revolution shuns high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, trans fats and deep-frying. Its meats and milk are hormone- and antibiotic-free, and many of its ingredients are organic and locally sourced.
Company co-founder and chief operating officer Kirsten Saenz Tobey says Revolution’s plan is to “take the school lunch problem off the schools’ plates” with kid-friendly but healthful food. “A principal doesn’t want to manage a restaurant.”