The school cafeteria: Latest hangout for fast casuals

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Red apples

Two fast casual concepts are helping students trade their usual lunches of chicken nuggets, mushy veggies and pizza for bowls, wraps and salads. Freshii, a Canadian-based brand with about 700 units spread throughout North America, and Cuisine Solutions, a company that operates a fast casual concept called, Cafe + Teria — are on their way to curbing lunch-bag letdown and the return of half-eaten lunches.

“The school lunch menu will provide the nutrients needed to fuel students’ days. Slow-burning carbs like brown rice and quinoa provide growing bodies with fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugar, while healthy fats like avocado will keep kids fueled all afternoon. There’s no high-and-crash that you might see with less-than-healthy options.”

The York School, an independent school in Toronto that educates kids K-12 and has a Freshii operating within its walls, is thrilled with the partnership.

“The benefits in our partnership with Freshii are threefold. Firstly, the food is tasty,” Anthony Westenberg, head of communications at York School in Toronto, said in an interview with FastCasual. “Secondly, we all know that good and healthy food fuels the brain and body. Fresh, quality ingredients go a long way in preparing our students and staff for optimal performance.

“Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, food is community. It is around food that we gather, and discuss and debate and tell stories. Freshii does all that and we are happy (and honored) that they are part of our community.”

Hosting a location on campus isn’t a requirement of a Freshii partnership, Melissa Gallagher, Freshii VP of Marketing, said in an interview with FastCasual. Other participating schools partner with their local Freshii franchises, which accept students’ pre-orders and deliver them directly to the schools. The cost for each lunch is $5 without protein, Gallagher.

Also hoping to offer more healthful lunch options to their students, Arlington County in Virginia rolled out Cafe + Teria’s salads, bowls and wraps last year to its three public high schools — Wakefield, Yorktown and Washington. Due to the program’s success, the county is offering the options this year with new additions, including the Italian bowl, featuring a basil vinaigrette and whole grain pasta. Two other Virginia school districts, including Loudoun, are following suite opening Cafe + Teria locations this year on their campuses.

“Cuisine Solutions has worked hard to understand the school nutrition business and has been a valuable partner in our work to bring fresher, speed scratch items into our schools,” Becky Domokos-Bays, Loudoun County Public School’s nutrition services director, said in a news release. “The Academies of Loudoun venue will offer students a variety of choices and the opportunity to build their own meals from different themes.”

How Cafe +Teria works

At each Cafe +Teria, students select ingredients in four steps to build a nutritious meal by picking a base of grain, salad or a wrap; a protein: antibiotic-free chicken, ground beef or Paneer cheese; a topping of vegetables, cheese and sauces and a dressing.

Cafe + Teria uses only Cuisine Solutions’ sous -vide proteins. Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum,” which describes a cooking technique in which food is vacuum-sealed, then slow cooked in hot water. The method allows food to cook at a steady temperature to retain nutrients, flavors and moisture that are often lost during conventional cooking techniques.

Cafe + Teria also provides students with additional allotted amounts of vegetables and a more modern dining experience with several international cuisine types including Mexican, Indian, Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean to address menu fatigue, said Amy Maclosky, Arlington County director of food and nutrition services

As far as costs, there is no difference between the school’s regular meals and Cafe + Teria — even for kids qualifying for free or reduced lunches, said Bill Stablein, Cuisine Solutions’ manager K-12 programs, who spearheaded this partnership between the Arlington County schools and Cuisine Solutions’ chefs.

“The district chooses the price point, but they offer it at the same cost as every other meal,” he said. “The free and reduced lunch program is a federal program. Café + Teria works within the school nutrition and U.S.D.A. guidelines, and therefore it is available to students participating in the free and reduced lunch program as a reimbursable meal.”

“Cafe + Teria has allowed us to broaden our menu options responding to our students’ desire for more customized meals,” she said.

Source:, 9-4-18

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