Each school day thousands of children are fed at our local schools. But where does that food come from?
In Duval County, the food begins at the Nutritional Services Center off Norman Thagard Boulevard.
"We keep $1.5 million in commodities here at any given time, so it is quite challenging," tells Nick Paduano the Chartwells purchasing manager.
As the supplies are brought in, they are stacked floor to ceiling in the huge facility. Every box and every can is marked and frozen foods go into a freezer which sits at an arctic feeling negative 21 degrees, but the food doesn't sit long.
"Every morning they [staff] come in and they fill the rooms up for production," tells Paduano.
Here's where things start to heat up! The rice gets a bath in boiling water, the gravy gets churned in large kettles in to make sure it doesn't burn. Everything that comes out of the three large kettles is taste tested by a manager for quality.
Santitation and safety is key throughout the process, even sanitizing the outside of bags the food is stored in.
Duval County Public Schools serves around 33,500 breakfast meal and 59,900 lunch meals a day. The food is made in the Nutritional Services Center two days in advance, then sent to the schools.
In St. Johns County schools there is not a central location where food is processed and tested. Instead each school individually prepares the meals.
Katleen Damiano, the Food Service Manager at Palencia Elementary School says they often use USDA recipes and the district has a nutritionist that also comes up with recipes.
"We make our own bread and we make salads with fresh produce everyday," tells Damiano," So we sometimes do recipe testing in the kitchens that we have in our schools and the kids really love to cook the food they are going to eat."
In Duval County Public Schools, the recipes start in the Nuritional Services Center with chef trainer Katie Self.
"We come up with a concept first and then we talk to Nick [Paduano] about the availability of product and then we develop a recipe working with the dieticians," says Self.
She gets most of her inspiration from Chartwells. Every recipe in every school district must stay within USDA guidelines, but it also has to be appetizing to students.
"Everything from color, texture and appearance is taken into consideration," says Self.
The staff at the Nutritional Services Center try the new recipes first, then they invite in parents and students to try the new foods as well.
Each year new requirements come out, which means recipes are always being tweaked or changed. The big change that happened this year was students have to take a half cup of fruits or vegetables in order to have a reimbursable meal.
Next year the focus is on more whole grains in breakfast foods.
First Coast News