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Stefano's Pizza Gets Back on School Lunch Menu

Revolution Foods adds a host of new items to improve popularity among students at district's six schools.

To the delight of Mill Valley's K-8 students, Stefano's Solar-Powered Pizza has returned to the school lunch lineup, giving a needed boost to the food program's service provider.

"We're absolutely delighted to be back doing the school lunch program," said Bob Valentino, owner of Marin's three Stefano's pizza restaurants and Rocco's Pizza & Pasta in Camino Alto Plaza.

Before Mill Valley's lunch program was turned over to Revolution Foods in 2008, Stefano's was one of several local restaurants to provide meals to Mill Valley's K-8 students. It did so for more than 20 years. Due to a state mandate that ended the restaurant program, Revolution Foods became the sole provider of lunches to the Mill Valley School District. Its decision to offer Stefano's Pizza one day a week is in response to requests from school children and parents, according to Revolution Foods co-founder Kirsten Tobey.

"We've heard the community say that having Stefano's is really important," Tobey said. "We're really excited to be building this partnership."

Revolution Foods, started by Bay Area moms Tobey and Kristin Richmond of Mill Valley in 2006, is hoping the third year's a charm in its efforts to provide healthy, fresh and home-style lunches in Mill Valley. It hasn't been easy to satisfy the taste buds of finicky school kids while meeting strict state and federal nutrition requirements.

"It's challenging," said Tobey, who lives on the Peninsula. "The requirements are incredibly complex. But we have a wonderful executive chef who's talking to kids about what they want to eat."

Reviews on the taste and presentation of Revolution Foods' lunches were mixed from the outset. Most of the complaints had to do with presentation. To seal in moisture, for example, kids would find a heap of mash potatoes dumped on top of their lunch entrees.

"We've heard that the meal may taste really good, but if the presentation isn't there, the kids aren't going to like it," said Michele Rollins, the district's assistant superintendent of business services.

The company responded immediately – and often – by asking kids what they wanted and conducting tastings to try out new menu items. Parents and school officials are hopeful the company's eagerness to respond to kids' feedback will help improve meals.

"It's a very proactive company," says Sophia Ferro, PTA executive vice president at Tamalpais Valley Elementary School and a Mill Valley mother of three. "Our school has been more than pleased with how they've responded to our needs, and the kids are eating it more and more."

When Revolution Foods took over Mill Valley's school lunch program, it had big shoes to fill. Previously, school children enjoyed lunches from a rotating collection of Mill Valley restaurants, including Stefano's and Grilly's. Not only did this bode well for local restaurants, it also benefitted school PTAs, which profited from the partnership.

The state eventually cracked down on this practice, saying the restaurant fare did not meet state and federal nutrition requirements. It also prevented proceeds made by the PTAs to be used on anything other than the lunch program. For a time, the PTAs tried to manage the lunch program themselves, but soon gave up against a tidal wave of strict nutritional requirements.

Eventually, the school district turned to Revolution Foods, which first started serving school in Oakland in 2006, with the intention of going above and beyond the normal state and federal guidelines for school lunches. Organic and local foods are used whenever financially possible. Meals contain only fresh fruits and vegetables, and noticeably lack high-fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats and preservatives. Meats and dairy products are free from hormones and antibiotics. Nothing is flash fried. Chicken fingers, for example, are breaded and baked. The company uses packaging that is recyclable and, when possible, compostable, such as the eucalyptus seals used to contain meals.

In addition to Stefano's, Revolution also approached Grilly's, another member of the original restaurant program, to provide burritos once a week. Owner Jim Revoir eventually declined, saying there was no room for his restaurant to make a profit. Grilly's continues to run its own school lunch program to private schools and day care centers in Mill Valley and Fairfax.

Stefano's Pizza isn't the only change to this year's school lunch menu. The company is adding new salads and sandwiches, such as a Southwest bean salad with grilled chicken, and a turkey sandwich wrap with chipotle dipping sauce. Dual compartment packaging (for those kids who don't like their foods touching), more cut up fruits and vegetables, and more whole grains are also in the mix this year.

The price won't change, however. Revolution will charge $4.75 for grades K-5 and $5 for grades 6-8. All schools will now be able to pre-pay meals on Revolution Foods' online credit card ordering system.

"We consider ourselves to be a very environmentally conscious school, so it really tied in well for us," said Mark McGahan, PTA president of Strawberry Point Elementary School and Mill Valley father of two fussy eaters. "We're hoping that the program will be a bigger hit this year."

David J Hanson February 22, 2011 at 12:20 AM
Only a vegetarian could find their menus appealing. These menus are neither creative or fun. It's all the same stuff I was forced to eat against my will by an over zealous mother with exaggerated concerns.
Audrae Erickson February 22, 2011 at 10:34 PM
High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product that is no more processed than sugar, fruit juice concentrate, or agave nectar production. According to Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Banishing high-fructose corn syrup is ‘a waste of time and money’ – better to limit children’s total sugar intake.” There is no nutritional benefit gained by replacing high fructose corn syrup with another caloric sweetener. According to the American Dietetic Association, “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.” As many dietitians agree, all sugars should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle. Consumers can see the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at www.CornSugar.com. Audrae Erickson President Corn Refiners Association
Linda Thoennes Farr February 25, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Limiting all sugars in the diet is a healthful choice but focusing on only HFCS is misleading. It is no different than sucrose. Scientific studies clearly show that sugar (sucrose) and HFCS both affect the body in the same way once absorbed and contain the same number of calories. Linda Farr RD, LD, consultant to the Corn Refiners Association
Windy Daley July 20, 2011 at 02:45 AM
To Audrae Erickson and Linda Farr, corn refiner lobbyists: Sucrose has a different chemical formula than high fructose corn syrup, and fructose is metabolized differently than sucrose. HFCS is an unbound sugar (largely from genetically altered corn) that is not found in nature. And Audrae, HFCS is highly processed--please--we are not all "misled, confused, and as stupid" as the actors pretend to be in your commercials--because we choose to make healthier food choices And Linda, as a registered dietitian, you know quite well that soft drink, candy, and snack corporations sponsor the American Dietetic Association: http://www.eatright.org/corporatesponsors/ Linda and Audrae, how much of that artificial red drink (from the corn refiners commercials) do you personally drink and give to your children each day? Or do you just expect other American parents to give it to their children? True freedom is the right to choose. And you are correct, Linda, limiting sugars in the diet is certainly a healthful choice. However, couldn't you also agree that the first place a concerned parent could start is by eliminating high fructose corn syrup and the highly processed foods it is in—especially that artificial red drink? Health is our most valuable possession—and proper food choices (especially in school) will help insure healthy futures for all of us. Audrae and Linda, for your health and the health of your children—please give up that horrible red drink.

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