edible education

SCHOOL LUNCH REVOLUTION

Farm Fresh Catering serves up organic, freshly prepared meals to area schools.

WRITTEN BY ANNIE FLANZRAICH
PHOTOS BY ASA GILMORE

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The phrase school lunch may bring to mind a plastic-wrapped, floppy, slightly moist sandwich on white bread that gets stuck in your teeth, paired with a mealy apple, a bag of stale chips, and an artificially flavored drink.

But not at High Desert Montessori School in Reno.

Instead, the lunch menu at this free, public charter school looks more like a hip Midtown Reno restaurant. Think baked mahi-mahi served with brown rice, avocados stuffed with chicken or tuna salad, and Italian, herb-roasted chicken.

The school is the first to partner with Farm Fresh Catering. The idea came when Farm Fresh founders Chris Taylor and Ximena Acuna attended a parent orientation at the school two years ago.

“I called them and said, ‘Hey, we just started this company, and we’re focusing on local, organic, quality, healthy food. Maybe we can work together,’” Taylor says.

And the rest is gastronomic history.

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Cafeteria food coup

Now in its second year of providing school lunches, Farm Fresh employees also work with five other schools: Excel Christian School, Brookfield School’s elementary and high school programs, Blue Kangaroo Learning Center, and Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy (all in Reno). For each, Farm Fresh prepares lunch in High Desert Montessori’s small industrial kitchen. The meals are 90 percent organic and sometimes include ingredients grown in the school’s garden and hoop houses.

“I’m trying to make regular food taste yummy and look pretty,” Acuna says. “That’s one of the goals when you’re working with kids. The more colors you have on the plate, the more of a chance the kids will try it.”

With a degree in French cuisine and experience in the food industry since she was 18, Acuna says she continually changes the menu to make it more appetizing for young palates.

“We did mixed salads, and we did salads with the dressing on the side, and we did not see a great response,” she says. “So we tried adding cut pieces of veggies and put the dressing on the side, and we saw a huge change.”

Sometimes students don’t immediately love the gourmet menu. So Farm Fresh still offers sandwiches — but they come on bread freshly baked at Rounds Bakery in Reno and filled with organic ingredients.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Taylor says. “It’s made from scratch each day. Everything’s got whole, real-food ingredients.”

The meals also are more affordable than some other options, Taylor says.

Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich or a crudité platter, students at High Desert Montessori love the lunches from Farm Fresh, says principal Tammie Stockton. And so does the staff.

“My favorite is the tuna-salad-stuffed avocado,” Stockton says. “You could go down to Midtown and probably pay two to three times what we pay for our school lunch. It’s a win-win for all of us.”

Annie Flanzraich is a Reno-based writer and editor who will take her organic tuna sandwich with the crusts on, please.

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