Murrieta Mesa High School

Murrieta, California

Murrieta Mesa High School
Healthy school food

© The Pew Charitable Trusts

When Murrieta Mesa High School was built in 2009, its huge kitchen had plenty of storage for processed foods but little equipment for cooking with fresh ingredients, which left the school’s nutrition team largely dependent on costly and unappealing heat-and-serve meals. To improve menu flexibility and meal quality, the school obtained a U.S. Department of Agriculture school kitchen equipment grant and purchased a tilting skillet.

“It lets us use fresh, healthy ingredients to cook dishes that the kids like,” said Jill Lancaster, the district’s nutrition director.

Shortly after the skillet was installed, the school brought in a professional chef to train staff on using the new equipment and to offer recipe tips. Some of the new skillet-based recipes developed by the school nutrition staff include chili, carnitas, chicken fajitas, and beef with broccoli.

Before, the school could not offer many of these dishes, in part because vegetables often weren’t cooked properly and turned out soggy and unappealing to students. Now, students enjoy well-cooked vegetables, such as broccoli that is bright green and crunchy.

Although having the ability to serve meals made from scratch may be the most obvious benefit, Lancaster said the equipment also adds value in other important ways. For example, preparing meals in Murrieta Mesa’s kitchen is more cost-effective than purchasing the precooked, frozen foods relied on in the past, and the savings have enabled the school to afford more fresh, local ingredients.

Labor efficiency also improved with the addition of the skillet. Previously, staff had to cook many menu items in small batches because of limited space in the heat-and-serve ovens. Now they can prepare food in larger quantities, and when making pasta dishes, which are among the students’ favorite meals, staff members no longer have to carry heavy pans of water to boil pasta.

The reaction to the school’s nutritious, made-from-scratch meals has been so positive, the district is now considering seeking grants to buy a grill and a pizza oven.

Following the success at Murrieta Mesa, tilting skillets were installed in all high schools in the district. This has improved efficiency districtwide, because every kitchen can now follow the same procedures and recipes.

Healthy school food
issue brief
A tilting skillet, bought with grant money from the USDA
A tilting skillet, bought with grant money from the USDA
Issue Brief

USDA’s School Kitchen Grants Benefit Meal Programs and Students

The right equipment makes a difference in efficient...

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Issue Brief

USDA’s School Kitchen Grants Benefit Meal Programs and Students

The National School Lunch Program is turning 70 in 2016, and kitchens in many of the more than 95,000 schools that participate in the program are nearly as old. Aging infrastructure and equipment, much of it designed to heat or handle pre-packaged rather than fresh foods, pose significant barriers to school districts’ efforts to adapt to the preferences and dietary needs of today’s students.

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Salad bar at school
Salad bar at school
Article

School Nutrition Gets a Boost From USDA Kitchen Equipment Grants

School Nutrition Gets a Boost From USDA Kitchen Equipment Grants

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Article

The National School Lunch Program is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and many of the kitchens in participating schools are nearly as old. U.S. Department of Agriculture kitchen equipment grants have helped schools update their facilities and infrastructure, allowing them to serve healthier foods and improve meal programs for students.

Learn More