Noble students – when you walk into the cafeteria on your first day of school, get ready to smell something delicious cooking. Noble Schools is seriously upgrading their food menus and entire meal program this year.
Our Dining Services team worked hard last year to get student feedback about how they felt about the food at their campus. And we heard you. No more are the days of lukewarm, pre-made meals. No more are the days of getting to the cafeteria late in the day, only to find that your favorite food item is out. From now on, meals at your school will be served fresh every meal period with plenty of options to choose from.
This is thanks to Noble’s new partnership with Quest Food Management Services, one of the top 50 ranked food management companies in the U.S.
This year, Noble had the opportunity to consider working with a new vendor. Our Dining Services team was able to be more selective about their vendor for this year after a change was made to Illinois law about how schools select them.
In this search, they were looking for a company that would prioritize our students’ unique needs and preferences. The Dining Services team wanted to choose a company that would come alongside Noble in our commitment to amplify student voice and create the best conditions for our students to thrive.
Our team was immediately drawn to Quest’s innovative and relationship-focused approach to how they cook and serve food.
“We actually got out to see them in action at other schools, and we were just blown away by the offerings and the quality of their food,” Monica Karis, Noble’s Director of Dining Services, said.
Noble’s Manager of Dining Services, Rosannie Quiñones, added: “After meeting with different vendors that submitted bids, for me, was the one that actually listened to what was important to our school district.”
Read more for a quick look at what you can expect in your school cafeteria this year:
FRESHER FOOD & MORE CHOICES
One of the things that stood out the most to Noble about Quest’s approach is their batch cooking process. This process ensures that meals will be fresh throughout the day and that students’ favorite foods will never run out. Meals are also still free for all students!
For most schools, all the food for the day is made before the first meal period starts. This means that it sits around getting cold, so students with lunch periods later in the day don’t get hot food. It also means that the cooks aren’t able to adjust what they’re making to accommodate for unanticipated demand for popular food items. Stock runs out quickly and students later in the day never get a chance to eat fan favorites like walking tacos or pizza. These pain points were evident in the student feedback our Dining Services team gathered.
“Students were really clear that the food quality just wasn’t good, the temperature wasn’t good. It wasn’t appealing and there was overall a lack of variety. And even if there was something they liked, it often ran out,” Karis said.
With the batch cooking approach, cafeteria cooks will be cooking meals fresh and hot throughout the day. They’ll make their first batch for the first meal period and while that is being served, they will be cooking the next period’s meals. This also allows them to make changes to how much they’re cooking of certain food items based on the demand from the last meal period.
Noble students, this means that no matter how late your lunch period is, you’ll get your favorite foods.
“We’re putting the time and effort into producing the foods that the kids will take, minimizing waste at the end of the day,” Nicholas Correa, Quest’s Resident District Manager for Noble’s account, said about the batch cooking process.
In addition, Quest is also committed to making sure students have a wide variety of foods to choose from. There will be more vegetarian options, fresh fruits, and different spreads to make your own meal (like the pasta bar they’ll have on September 21 – check out the special meals for September here).
“Student-driven variety is one of our cornerstones and will remain so at Noble,” Correa said.
Quest’s commitment to building relationships with students and working to understand their food needs and preferences was also another reason Noble chose them. Noble’s 18 schools across Chicago all have unique, different communities. The food they serve will reflect that, Correa said, so no two Noble schools will be exactly alike in their menus.
“Just because something goes over really well at JCP, doesn’t mean it’s gonna go over at Pritzker. We have to be very conscious that there’s different demographics, especially over the large sprawl of the district throughout the city of Chicago,” Correa said, “We’re gonna start breaking up the menus so that they start reflecting the communities we serve.”
Quest is already working to understand each Noble school community to better serve our students. When Correa visited Mansueto High School last school year, he noticed how many students were going to the McDonald’s across the street to pick up breakfast. That gave him an idea.
“Man, we just gotta put an egg McMuffin on the menu – and they don’t have to pay for it! Come to us, it’s free,” Correa said.
As soon as they start up, they’ll be crunching the data to see what students like and don’t like, Correa said. However, they’ll also make sure that students have the opportunity to explore new, unfamiliar foods with samples available.
Lastly, Quest will be working in partnership with Noble’s Dining Services team to hold wellness committee meetings twice a year at every campus. At these meetings, students, staff, and parents will be invited to come talk with Noble and Quest representatives to give feedback and help select new items for the menu. Follow your school’s social media to stay up-to-date on when and where these meetings will be held.
Parents and students can also look up their school’s menu on the FD MealPlanner website and app and leave reviews on the food. Quest will be updating it with each day’s menu and watching for any feedback.
“We want to give them a voice so that they can say – ‘Hey, listen, we really liked this, we would like to see this more often.’ – that’s fantastic. I would much rather my staff produce food that the students will eat than it end up in the trash,” Correa said.
TRAINED CHEFS & STAFF
In addition to fresh food and student-driven menus, Quest is also bringing trained staff and chefs to Noble kitchens.
The food management company brings a high trained and experienced director, executive chef and dietician.
“From my previous experience, having a chef along with a dietician makes a significant difference in how the food is presented, the quality, and everything overall,” Quiñones said.
Quest also provides their kitchen staff with hands-on training with cooking from scratch – not just showing them how to warm up pre-made meals. At one of Quest’s trainings this summer at The Noble Academy, you could hear kitchen staff at lunch talking with the chefs about how the seasoning on the fajitas they made that morning needed to be stronger.
The executive chef and Culinary Director in charge of Noble’s account, Chef Lamont Branch, said one of their highest priorities will be to equip their staff with the skills they need to deliver high quality food consistently.
“If the nachos or the sloppy joes are something that we know the students like, we have to make sure to be consistent every single day we put those things out because that’s how we’re going to get the students to buy in,” Branch said.
Correa added, “Consistency is how we establish trust.”
OUR HOPES FOR THIS PROGRAM
Both Karis and Quiñones are excited about the excellent food service Quest will bring to our students.
“School meals are vital for our students to excel in their learning, physical activity, and afterschool programs. By enhancing their meal offerings, our students will be able to enjoy their meal program and thrive during the school day,” Karis said, “I hope students really take advantage of their meal program.”
So, students, make sure you stop by the cafeteria to pick up a free meal. Say hi to the staff there and let them know what you think of the food. They want to hear it.
To learn more about meals at Noble Schools, check out our Food & Nutrition Services webpage.