Students at Livingston Parish Public Schools in Livingston, La., will be able to grab a bit of fresh air and a bite to eat when the nutrition department debuts a new mobile food trailer in the fall.
The idea for the trailer started before the pandemic, when Child Nutrition Director Sommer Purvis met with Leadership Livingston, a future leaders group that is part of the local chamber of commerce, to discuss funding the trailer as part of the group’s community service project.
“We had kind of pitched that idea to them on being able to utilize [the food trailer] across the parish for different schools and for a few different purposes,” says Purvis.
Fast forward to today, and the team is now developing the trailer’s menu and figuring out the final logistics to get ready for its official launch.
Planning out the equipment
The trailer is housed at one of the district’s cafeterias and will be overseen by the manager there. During runs, it will be staffed with a minimum of two full-time employees.
Menu items will not be prepared on the trailer due to the high quantity of meals that have to be served. Instead, the dishes will be cooked at one of the district’s kitchens and then loaded onto the trailer for distribution.
The trailer’s equipment includes a three-compartment sink, workstation, cooler, refrigerator, freezer and two warmers. The team is considering purchasing additional equipment that would allow them to prepare and serve food on-site at special events.
“We have looked into some non-vented equipment like a pizza oven and things like that, where we would have room and enough power on the trailer to run those,” says Purvis.
Getting students involved
Students will have a hand in the trailer’s menu. Six schools in the district are involved with ProStart, a culinary arts and restaurant management program for high schoolers created by the National Restaurant Association. Purvis is organizing an annual recipe competition with the ProStart students to come up with menu ideas.
Each of the ProStart schools will be able to submit two teams of three to five students, and each team will be responsible for developing an entree recipe featuring a specific ingredient and one side that compliments it.
The 12 recipes will be judged this spring, and the highest-scorers will be added to the trailer’s menu for the upcoming school year. Purvis plans to have the menu rotate every quarter, so more than one of the ProStart teams’ recipes could be served if the competition yields more than one winning recipe.
The rest of the menu will focus on “upscale handhelds” like wraps and sandwiches, Purvis says, and will feature items not found in the district’s cafeterias.
“If we did a hamburger [on the trailer menu], we would want it to be on some type of different bun or have some type of different flair to it than just the regular hamburger that you would see on your typical cycle menu,” she says.
The team is also hoping the trailer will allow them to utilize more local ingredients. While working with farmers to supply all 43 schools in the district with local produce is a challenge, providing produce for just the items served on the trailer is much more manageable, Purvis says.
Making the most of the trailer’s versatility
Starting off, the trailer will visit only one or two schools a week so that the nutrition team can figure out how many students they can serve and other logistics. Once the team falls into a routine, the trailer will operate four days a week, from Tuesday to Friday, during the regular school year.
The trailer will also have many uses outside of the typical school day, Purvis says. Over the summer, the team plans on bringing it to schools that hold summer school, and it will be on hand during hurricane season if emergency feeding is needed. The trailer is also going to make an appearance at a school track meet this spring.
“It's definitely a new concept, and so, we're just trying to kind of grow with it as it goes,” she says. “We do think that it has a lot of versatile uses, but it's just going in a little bit at a time to make sure that we have the staff that's needed and the supplies and so on.”