OAKLAND -- Montclair Elementary School has unveiled a new kitchen at the school where meals will be cooked on-site instead of being delivered from a central cafeteria.

The program has been in place for two weeks. The school's Parent Teacher Association has paid for lunches for students for the two-week trial period. Up to 500 students participated in the program. Previously, only about 60 children ate the school meals before the new kitchen was installed.

The students have been excited about the food, according to Principal Nancy Bloom.

"I think this is the best food I've ever had at any school I've ever been," said fifth-grader Joel Taylor. "It's flat out delicious."

On a recent menu was vegetarian chili with cheese sprinkled on top, a baked potato, whole bananas and apples, milk, yogurt, and access to the school's salad bar.

"It's really good food," said fifth-grader Lucy Arevalo. "Before, the food came in packages, and was wet. I wasn't always sure what it was. This is fresh."

The facility is staffed by four workers, two of whom are cooks.

To keep the kitchen running, Bloom must entice the students to consume 500 meals a day. This includes breakfast, which counts as half a meal, which is also served at no cost on-site. After-school snacks count as a quarter of a meal.

Breakfast and the snacks will remain free. Lunch will cost $2.25 for children who are not eligible for free or reduced lunch. Parents will be able to electronically pay for meals by putting money on student's ID cards.

"We do have kids that don't get breakfast. This makes less disruption in class. If you find a way to feed kids, they will learn better," Bloom said.

Bloom said that she launched the program in response to seven years of complaints about the cafeteria food.

"We were building a new building," she said. "It would be foolish not to make it happen."

Leslie Dougherty, mother of a second-grader, couldn't be happier.

"It's exciting," she said. "They like it. It's fresh and tasty; so far, so good. I didn't realize how much I would enjoy not making lunch for my child."

Another advantage to the new kitchen is the reduction in packaging. Under the old system, the majority of food items would arrive encased in plastic packaging. All the plates and utensils are compostable.

Soon a dispenser will be installed for the utensils and napkins, further reducing waste.

The school has also instituted a food share program. Students that do not want a portion of their lunch can place the items in a designated box to share with other students.

The school has applied to become an official food share site, so that leftover food can be distributed to families is need each day.

"That's the whole thing," Bloom said. "If we are trying to pump education into their (the kids) heads, they have to have the fuel to absorb it."

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