Duval County, located in Jacksonville, FL, has recently rolled out two new "Brainfood" trucks, which will travel across the district's schools to provide healthy and fresh culinary picks for students. Right now, the pilot program will be serving exclusively to the area high schools. During lunch hours, the trucks will be dishing out menu items that include buffalo chicken mac 'n' cheese, garlic pepper beef rice bowls, and Cajun chicken wraps. The meals have been Gold Standard Certified according to the USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge, says Brian Giles, vice president of operations for Chartwells-Thompson School Dining Services. To receive Gold certification, the lunch fare must pass through a panel of dietitians who analyze fat, sodium, and caloric content, among other things.
"One of the challenges we face is getting students to try meals in a new way," Giles says. "It's important to educate students on the value of healthy choices and the part that those choices play in education and wellbeing."
Culinary students from the local community college, along with chefs hired by Chartwells, will work the trucks during lunch hours. In time, Giles hopes that the program will gain enough steam to offer local high school and middle school students internships to work on the trucks.
The mastermind behind the trucks' name and design is Jillian Cruickshank, a high school sophomore in Jacksonville. When Chartwells tasked students to dream up a clever name and design for the trucks, Cruickshank rose to the challenge and "captured the attitude of what the food truck means," according to Giles.
While the trucks are currently only making rounds to Duval County high schools, they'll soon be rolling up to district middle schools and elementary schools so that even more students can make a lunchtime pick that's beyond the cafeteria. As is customary now for restaurants on wheels, Chartwells will be utilizing social media to publicize the trucks' schedule throughout the week. Along with that (so students aren't distracted by their phones during the day), the trucks will have a regular schedule posted online.
Giles hopes that the students can use the food trucks as a gathering place, grabbing food at their own convenience, hanging out with friends, and creating a loyal following to the trucks' menus. This will, hopefully, allow students to connect these positive experiences with an enhanced attitude about healthier school lunch options.
"School meal programs constantly fight against this idea that walking into a school café means something negative, and we're working to change that," he says.
If all goes well, Giles and Chartwells have big plans to utilize the trucks in other ways: they could provide refreshments at sporting events or join students on-location during organized field trips. For Giles, the possibilities feel endless. And when healthy, delicious food comes packaged in a vibrant, cool vehicle? What kid wouldn't be on board?