By Amy Kahan, PTA Council
“11,000 bunches of grapes, 1,750 crowns of broccoli, 573 bunches of beets and 8,400 baskets of strawberries.” These are just some of the tasty foods that Orlando Griego, Director of Food & Nutrition Services, for Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, offers and serves to the district’s children annually.
“4,000 heads of lettuce, 567 heads of cauliflower, 1,750 cucumbers, 5,400 oranges…and that’s just from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market alone,” Griego continues.
Griego, who’s been with the district since 2003, expands his list once more, this time citing the, “45,300 packages of fresh baby carrots, 955 lbs of broccoli florets, 191 lbs of red onion, 143 lbs of green bell pepper, 1,110 lbs of celery sticks and 57,702 fresh apples,” that come from Sunrise, the district’s fresh produce company, each year.
Orlando rattles off these numbers in a prompt and efficient way – two words that also help define the man who’s responsible for providing roughly 5,000 breakfasts and lunches daily to the district’s childcare, elementary, middle and high school students. On pizza days, his numbers swell to over 6,000. “The kids really love pizza” he says, “close behind is “brunch-for-lunch” and “chicken nuggets.” Asked about his personal favorite, Orlando responds: “roasted chicken,” with no hesitation.
Like many at SMMUSD, Orlando faces his share of challenges: he must be creative with a very limited budget, and he has to find a way to balance the nutritional concerns of parents with the eating tastes of their children.
To find this balance, Orlando works closely with the district’s registered dietitian, Dona Richwine, and the department’s Operations Supervisor, Kelly Lancaster. Together they plan meals designed to provide adequate nutrients, address calorie limits, and maintain a constant variety of foods. If that isn’t enough, adding to his challenges is the need for all menus to comply with the federal government’s National School Lunch/Breakfast Program regulations, state regulations and the district’s own Wellness Policy.
Orlando’s budget tests his creativity in different ways than his menu planning does. This is partly due to the fact that the Food & Nutrition Services Department is a self-sustaining department, which means that his department receives no money from the district’s General Fund. The entire budget comes from cash received from cafeteria sales and reimbursements from federal and state governments for each free meal or reduced price meal served daily. From all the revenue received, Orlando must purchase food, supplies and equipment, as well as pay the salaries of the seventy-five Food & Nutrition Services employees. A full priced lunch for elementary is $3.00 and for secondary is $3.50. (A majority of meals sold are at elementary schools.) Fifty per cent of the lunch price goes to salaries and benefits and fifteen cents is taken out for the plate and fork. Imagine doing all this with a food cost of $1.35 to $1.60 per child!
In 1997, the Farmer’s Market salad bar became a lunch option in the district. Today, the produce purchased at the Farmers Market, which is all grown sustainably using organic practices (meaning no pesticides), allows Orlando to be quite certain that SMMUSD kids eat healthy lunches. This also lets him take the new USDA “My Plate” tool to new heights. The USDA’s messages of: “Make 1/2 Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables” and “Choose Whole Grains” are easily attainable, either at hot lunch or the salad bar, thanks to the district’s association with the Farmers Market and thanks to Orlando’s passion for “preparing healthy food that our kids like to eat.” Knowing that kids like to eat bread, Orlando’s made sure that the majority of breads he serves are whole wheat or whole grain; aware that added trans fats are unhealthy, he’s eliminated them in all the cafeterias; and believing that “fresh is best”—he makes sure that salad bar items are picked only two days prior to serving.
And then there’s the best part of his job, which Orlando says, “is being out at the schools.” If you turn up at SAMOHI’s huge kitchen one day, you may catch Orlando making fresh sub sandwiches or working a cash register. If you find yourself at one of the district’s elementary schools, you might find Orlando and his assistant, Kelly, cooking hamburgers and hotdogs. And if you happen to be at JAMS on a Tuesday or Thursday, Orlando may be there, too, because it’s BBQ day and he’s pitching in to help make sure it runs without any glitches.
Orlando is proud to provide leadership to his hard working team of employees. “After all,” he states “they are responsible for ensuring our young scholars are offered and served nutritious meals everyday.” He continues, “It’s impossible for me to do any of this by myself.” Dedicated and compassionate is the best way to describe Orlando. This is clear when he talks about a memorable morning at his job. It was the morning he met a young boy, who had not only come to school early, he’d also come hungry. Orlando led him to the cafeteria, where he helped him get a nutritious, great tasting and healthy breakfast. Full and focused was a powerful way for this young boy to start his day; knowing he’d played a part in it was a powerful way for Orlando Griego to start his too.
For more information, please contact Patti Braun, PTA COuncil Co-President at PattiBraun@aol.com or 310.450.7906.