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  • Casa Grande High Schools Revamp Cafes

    ​High schools in the Casa Grande Union High School District are embracing the “cafe” in cafeteria.


    Both Casa Grande Union and Vista Grande high school upgraded their cafeterias over the summer in an attempt to create environments that are more inviting to students.


    Walls have been repainted, vintage lighting fixtures installed and digital art has been mounted behind the food lines. There are even mini chalkboards on the outside of containers to indicate what type of bread is available at the deli stand.


    Before students proceed to the lunch counter, they’re greeted by flat-screen televisions overhanging the entrances, projecting slides of menus and healthy food facts.  


    Dominique Kramer, the district’s director of food services, made it her ambition to transform the cafeterias to match a hip little bistro that might be found on the street corner of a busy metropolis.     


    The idea was that if the look matches the taste and quality of the food, then it might encourage students to buy more complete meals.   


    “I want them to have a good food experience,” Kramer said. “Once you have a bad food experience, you never go back.”

    It is small, visual details that Kramer wanted to focus on first after she arrived at the district last year. Instead of deli meat being served on metal trays, she switched them out for sleek white platters.


    Rather than have fruit piled into baskets, she got square crates to suggest a fresher aesthetic — as if the apples were just pulled from a tree. The crates were also re-positioned closer to the registers in order to subtly suggest that students take some fruit before leaving.


    Casa Grande Union has just begun offering a permanent burrito bar with a variety of homemade salsa in its cafeteria.

    The improvements cost about $40,000, which Kramer said came from revenue generated by the Food Services Department.


    As in all other high school cafeterias, the district must follow strict nutritional guidelines dictated in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. All students that purchase a meal in Kramer’s cafeterias must have at least three of the five main food groups on their plate.


    The schools are trying to provide numerous meal options for students that meet all the standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On any given school day, Kramer has up to four different meal options on display for students to choose from.  


    One meal may include pizza slices cooked on whole-wheat dough, an apple and milk. Another option may be a chicken-bacon sandwich with cooked cauliflower.


    Students who purchase a meal, which can include up to 850 calories, also have access to the cafeteria’s salad bar options, which can include marinated cucumbers, cowboy caviar and sweet potato salad.  


    When the lunch bell rings at 11:20 a.m., a heard of students quickly descends upon the food lines. Up to 600 students are served in the cafeteria during one 30-minute lunch period.

    Kramer has the goal of serving all the students within 15 minutes. The food lines can turn into a mad scramble during that time as students try getting the food they most want first. Vista Grande opened an extra entrance to its lunch counters this year to cut down on congestion.  


    Pizza is quick to run out, though Kramer tries coercing students to get one of the many other options available. She said it can be difficult getting students to try new foods but she does her best offering samples of hummus, peaches and butternut squash.


    “We are giving them that experience to try something they’ve never tried before,” Kramer said.   


    The next step in Kramer’s revitalization is to replace some cooking equipment in order to continue improving the quality of the food. Her ultimate dream is to establish an “express” line where students can order sandwiches and meals in the morning and quickly pick it up right at lunch time.


    She said having that “on-the-go” set-up would really have the cafeterias resembling the local Starbucks or McDonald’s.


    Casa Grande Dispatch

    August 24, 2016