The days of mystery meat and hash browns are over — or, at least, that’s what the Chartwells revolution is trying to accomplish. Chartwells K-12 is a school food distributor and food service management company that wants to bring healthy food that kids will actually want to eat to the cafeteria. Chartwells is already in 4,000 schools around the country, and now they are releasing a mobile app, Nutrislice, that brings the school menu into the 21st century. The app, for iPhone and Android, provides dietary information and gives you the ability to flag an item if your child has allergies. The Daily Meal had the chance to speak with Rhonna Cass, the president of Chartwells K-12, about the new app and how to get kids to enjoy eating their vegetables.
The Daily Meal: Can you walk me through the major features of the app?
Rhonna Cass: We want to reach the kids and parents beyond that menu everyone sticks on the fridge. We teamed up with Nutrislice, a technology company dedicated to nutrition, and together we provide nutritious foods and communicate with kids and parents. They get the food presentation and description. It also filters allergens like peanuts and ties menus into USDA guidelines. We’re still evolving the app, and the next version will show you where the food at your child’s school comes from. We can show students and parents a video from the point the farmer picks the product all the way to the distribution center and the school lunch tray. This will be in all of our schools by the end of next year. Right now we are in 38 states.
How do you think your app will change the way students eat?
I think the first thing is that we give students and parents convenience. You want to know what your kid is eating, and the app makes that easy. Plus, parents get calorie counts, nutritional information, and the ability to manage what their child eats. The kids are already flagged for allergies and dietary restrictions. By knowing what’s going to be served in the cafeteria ahead of time, you know whether or not your kid should take lunch to school.
What do the Chartwells menus look like?
We try to do as much from-scratch preparation as possible on the premises, keeping USDA regulations, portion, and sodium content in mind. The focus is on healthy eating. Fruits and vegetables are a huge portion of our lunches, and we have lots of salad bars. You have to have tasty, delicious, good-looking food. We aren’t past pizza and hamburgers — they’re still favorites — but we add other items. We do test tastings to introduce kids to ethnic food. It might be a mystery meat until you taste it, and then you realize it’s just a new way of preparing a chicken dish.
How do you balance kid-friendly food with nutritious food?
We deal with this every day. If you name the vegetable a fun name for lower grade schools, like “lean green bean machine,” they will eat it. If you offer it in more than one place on the lunch line, they’re more likely to take it. Having kids test out food helps too. If you do a yogurt bar and if they taste it first and like it, they will be more open to the next adventurous food item.