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South Jordan Journal

AAI continues to serve fresh homemade meals during pandemic

May 17, 2021 11:41AM ● By Julie Slama

Grandma Style Pizza, with homemade dough and sauce, and a side salad and fresh fruit, are among the homemade food that AAI food services staff are continuing to serve, thanks in part to the No Kid Hungry grant they received. (David Kimball/AAI)

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

Before COVID-19, American Academy of Innovation student Quade Flanders raved about his school’s food.

“It’s delicious; everything is homemade,” he said in early 2020.

As the pandemic hit, disrupting supply chains, prices have skyrocketed, including food that was once purchased in smaller amounts now needing to be bought by the case or the foil used to individually wrap food that is being served. 

However, that hasn’t changed the fresh meals made from scratch by chef and food service director David Kimball and the AAI staff.

Thanks to No Kid Hungry, more than $33,000 in grant funding coming from stimulus money was earmarked to feed AAI students during the 2021 calendar year. 

“This school year looks different than any we’ve seen before, but one thing remains the same: kids rely on us not just for their education but also for nutritious meals,” Kimball said. “This grant from No Kid Hungry will help ensure that we can continue to provide our students with the nutrition they need to learn, while also helping their families make ends meet during this difficult time.”

During the ongoing pandemic, the grant is used to offset the increased costs of providing meals to students, Kimball said.

“With COVID, all the packaging [prices] just went through the roof,” he said, adding that many schools use Styrofoam to package food for students. “We’re using aluminum; we’re being able to provide them with a hot meal, not a warm meal.” 

That packaging also keeps the food more fresh, such as his roasted children breast, homemade mashed potatoes and green beans he recently served for lunch, plus its more environmentally friendly, he added.

It just isn’t the increased funds for packaging but also for food service items such as rubber gloves.

“I used to get a case of 1,000 for about $53,” Kimball said. “Now it’s $156. Everything has shot up.” 

To keep up with the need to individually wrap items, an extra staff member was hired from the grant money to help in the kitchen.

“Basically, the grant covers the costs incurred with COVID,” he said.

Along with the grant, all meals to students are provided for free, so AAI is serving 40 to 50 more students per meal. 

While typically AAI provides students with options for lunches or breakfasts, this year, those have decreased to typically three. There still are four types of sandwiches, including two—ham and cheddar or turkey and provolone—that are prepared fresh. There is a salad option or the hot meal of the day, such his Grandma Style Pizza, with homemade dough and sauce he was prepping to serve. All meals–lunch and breakfast—come with fresh fruit. Breakfasts offer choices from blueberry muffins and banana bread to cereal and milk.

“The demand has gone crazy for a lot of prepared items,” he said. “We try to stay away from that as much as possible and do everything; most of our proteins are done from scratch. [It’s a] personal preference, [it] tastes better [and the] chicken’s not dry. It would be healthier because when you buy it, all the prepared stuff is either injected with sodium, water or different kinds of filler.”

Kimball, who has been a chef for 25 years and currently has a side mobile woodfire pizza business, said typically funds from No Kid Hungry serve Title I schools, but it was expanded this year as more students are in need during the pandemic as many families have lost jobs, so students rely more on school meals. He estimated about 50 students qualify for free or reduced lunch at AAI.