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A Tale of Two Schools

School foodservice today faces a challenge in keeping students on campus and satisfied. The smartest school foodservice operations understand that they compete with a wide range of off-campus choices. At the same time, they have to deal with students’ ever-changing tastes and more sophisticated palates. Here’s how two schools are successfully meeting that challenge with some help from RATIONAL.

Evanston Township High School, Evanston, Ill.

RATIONAL - Prepping food in kitchenRATIONAL’s iVario Pro and VarioCookingCenter are important parts of the Evanston Township High School kitchen.

Evanston Township (ETHS) serves more than 3,000 meals daily to its 3,500 students and 270 staff members. Reflecting its diverse student population, the school’s menus offer such items as pasta Bolognese, jerk pork and stuffed green peppers along with more traditional fare like pizza, pasta and vegetables.

Previously, the school used a tilt skillet to produce its meals. It was problematic, says ETHS Hot Food Production Lead Milka Marijanovic. “It had no automatic cooking programs, was time-consuming because we couldn’t do anything but monitor the cooking process, and it was very difficult to clean,” she says. 

In 2019, ETHS replaced its tilt skillet, steamer and fryer with a RATIONAL VarioCookingCenter® 211+, the predecessor to the company’s iVario Pro, which was introduced in 2020. Almost immediately, the quality and consistency of the food improved, while the kitchen became more efficient. Director of Nutrition Services Kim Minestra says, “The speed and technology of the RATIONAL helps relieve some of the stress and time challenges in the kitchen.” 

As an early adopter of the technology, Evanston Township was one of the first to experience the benefits of the equipment’s fast cooking time, ease of cleaning and overnight cooking function, not to mention achieve cost savings in labor and water usage. “After a month, I fell in love with it,” says Marijanovic. “I like to call the RATIONAL VarioCookingCenter my best friend.”

Madera Unified School District, Madera, Calif.

RATIONAL - Pizza on CounterWith some help from RATIONAL, Madera United serves its students delicious pizzas.

On a typical day, the Madera Unified School District serves around 24,000 meals across 28 schools. Brian Chiarito, the district’s Director of Child Nutrition, has a unique viewpoint. “We have to change the mindset and perception,” he says. “We provide lunch at school, not school lunch.”

The menus at Madera emphasize freshness and creativity. Near the farming area of the San Joaquin Valley in central California, Madera Unified has ready access to fresh produce. Typical entrees include fresh-roasted quarter chickens and freshly made all-beef burger patties. Chiarito has even created a restaurant-style burrito bar similar to what students can find in their favorite restaurants. Each school in the district makes breakfast and lunch available to all enrolled students at no cost through the federal Community Eligibility program. 

RATIONAL - iVario ProThe iVario Pro is helping many schools produce their meals more efficiently.

Fifteen RATIONAL combi ovens, including three iCombi Pro units, and one iVario Pro help the district produce these innovative meals. Food is prepared in a central kitchen for elementary schools; each middle and high school has its own kitchen. 

“The quality of food that we can produce is far better. The time savings when it comes to cooking and cleaning gives us more time for creativity when it comes to menu,” Chiarito says. “We can focus on better products for the kids, as opposed to cleaning ovens.”