As the 2014-2015 school year draws to a close, I'd like to share the final outcomes of Nardin Academy's new self-operated foodservice program.

nardin staff fortune-1Nardin Staff As mentioned in previous posts, the key to success is communication, and the Nardin Academy leadership team made sure to carry conversation around the cafeteria through the year with each guest chef, classroom initiative, school event and, finally, its annual fundraiser.

Nardin Academy hosts an annual fundraising event called Fortune that includes a silent and live auction to support endowment efforts. Each year the Nardin Academy team selects a new theme to focus fundraising efforts around a single initiative and this year the cafeteria was the focal point.

The event's co-chairs hosted several guests connected to the food and fitness industries. One is a restaurateur, another owns a health club, and another is a parent of five who sees the importance of school lunch programs. This offered a heavy backing for the program and made the cafeteria an even stronger contender for fundraising efforts, but it was really the outpouring of community and student feedback throughout the year that made it the best choice for the school's annual fundraising event.

The event took place in March with the new cafeteria and "Sustainable Nardin" took center stage. Guests were able to tour the kitchen and see beautiful photos of students and food that decorated the school walls. These efforts told the cafeteria's story, highlighting the good food students now eat.

Careful planning and devoted execution had brought the new food program into the limelight over the course of the academic year, and the school raised the highest amount ever in the history of its paddle auction. We knew it would be successful, but everyone was at least a little surprised at how well it had been received.

Healthy food for kids is becoming an easier thing to swallow, something that more and more people now understand. I don't know if this means we are changing our diets, but the fresh-to-table concept is becoming an important expectation.

At the same time, yes, the school's sustainability efforts continue to evolve but that is really all secondary to the food tasting good and the students eating it. Even people who don't particularly agree with the idea of eating more vegetables, hormones being bad for you, or the organic concept, don't really notice. All they see is good food that their kids are excited to eat. Along with paying attention to waste, that is where this all starts.

The first year of the new food program at Nardin Academy was meant to develop operations and test the water for new menus and sustainability initiatives. Nardin Academy was considering a million dollar renovation without knowing what the outcomes of a new program would look like. This first year helped to define those outcomes, and now Nardin Academy can build the cafeteria around their menu, around their community goals, and around the feedback received.

With funds raised for a cafeteria construction project, Nardin Academy is getting ready for the renovation, making sure the architect and vendors are in order, and finalizing the list of foodservice equipment it will purchase. This includes a new combi oven, brazier, and fryer — there is nothing wrong with fried foods in moderation. Nardin Academy will get rid of its reach-in coolers and invest in a walk-in cooler and freezer. The school's foodservice staff remain particularly excited about the blast chiller that will allow them to purchase fresh foods when in season and freeze them for year round use.

Aside from construction, the school has been working to help students better understand their lunch accounts and continues to focus on food costs and production to further increase preferable products and scratch cooking in the coming years.

This summer Nardin Academy will host two dieticians who will work with the chef to build nutritionals around the menu and develop curriculum for the classroom. They will also focus on uncovering more local food options, visiting farms and finding the highest quality local foods at the best value. As the program grows, there is potential for Nardin to become a training ground for others wanting to learn about sustainability and institutional scratch cooking.

Looking back at the school year, there is a lot to acknowledge in regards to what went into making the program a success. But it starts with relationships and working to build a connection for all stakeholders to the cafeteria whether it be through good food, reduced waste, healthy kids, holistic curriculum, guest chefs, or innovation. Nardin is able to live and promote all of these things through its new cafeteria. I'm proud to have been brought on for the ride and look forward to more of the sustainable Nardin story in the coming years.