Good Food, Good Mood:
Troup County Rolls Out Exciting New Food Truck
Troup County School Nutrition Program is shifting into high-gear with the acquisition of a trendy and much-needed food truck to better serve the needs of students, particularly those in the rural areas of the diverse county. After eight years in the making, Diane Paine – Director of School Nutrition and the driving force behind the food truck – is beyond elated to finally see her efforts come to fruition and deliver the meaningful impact she always believed that it could.
"I have been wanting a food truck since the first day I stepped through the door. We have so many rural students and I know they were missing nutrition [during the pandemic] and I was missing them. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to marry my vision for a food truck and make sure that it is utilized by the students," Ms. Paine explained.
Although this was her primary objective at the onset of the pandemic, significant delays pushed the introduction of the food truck back to the end of January. By this time, students had already transitioned from virtual learning and returned to physical classrooms. Ms. Paine wasted little time in recalibrating plans to maximize the effectiveness and benefits of the food truck, noting that the years of preparation and anticipation had equipped her with considerable operational agility. She elaborated that one of the many facets of the food
truck strategy was targeting high school students in an effort to motivate them to eat nutritious meals at school, currently at no cost, rather than spending on less healthy alternatives off-premises.
"Every week we have a dedicated day for each of our three high schools [Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday] ... and because high schoolers tend not to eat breakfast,
we are going to ramp-up opportunities there. We have our breakfast menu in production,
and it won't be what they can get inside [the cafeteria] either," Ms. Paine stated.
She indicated that this initiative to increase meal participation has so far yielded positive results at Troup High, where the presence of the food truck has already generated a boost of roughly 20 to 30 percent. Ms. Paine pointed out that the strong and fast-moving demand has forced her team to make several trips back-of-house to the cafeteria, where most of the cooking is done before adding light finishing touches to the meals in the food truck. Running parallel with this initiative, she highlighted the efforts to use the food truck to address the problem of low attendance on particular days in Troup County's elementary and middle schools.
"Our lowest attendance days are Monday and Friday. Elementary and middle schools can request the truck on those days and I'm hoping that not only will it make the meals fun for the kids there, but it might encourage them to come to school on a day they might not normally show up," said Ms. Paine.
With summer still a few months away, Ms. Paine has already developed a plan for distributing meals during the holidays. She expressed her relief at no longer having to worry about keeping meals hot or cold for parks and recreation programs and dragging around pans,
or coolers with ice and cold packs.
“We now have this food truck that'll help us keep our food integrity and food quality,
and it will also help us to go out to all those rural students that don't have any type of organized summer program," she stated.
In the short period of time since the food truck has been in operation, its popularity has grown exponentially in Troup County. Equipped with lights, a sound system, and wrapped with eye-catching graphics, it is creating a palpable buzz among students and community. Ms. Paine laughingly remarked that one of the clearest indications of the excitement around the food truck is fact that the students are thrilled to get in line and people are following it around, trying to buy their meals. A monthly rotating menu keeps things interesting and features powered-up dishes such as shrimp po'boy with Cajun sauce, cowboy quesadilla (barbecue pork topped with mac and cheese and a grilled quesadilla), and buffalo chicken melt between Texas toast. The truck's staff includes a Johnson and Wales-trained chef, another chef with a successful background in the restaurant business and an ultra-creative School Nutrition Assistant.
Ms. Paine is encouraged by the impact of the food truck to date and is firmly convinced
that it will bolster the nutrition program in the county's 17 schools with an enrolled population of around 13,000 students. She expressed gratitude for the grant of $80,000 from Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign, and a matching contribution from her School District, which enabled acquisition of the $165,000 food truck.
Speaking to the remarkable synergy between Troup County School Nutrition and their district leadership, Ms. Paine stressed that both her Superintendent, Brian Shumate, and Assistant Superintendent, Dennis “Chip" Medders, consider their Program, and its crucial work in feeding students, as equal partners in education.
“We are considered just as important as curriculum and it is recognized that without us the children don't benefit as much as they do with us. Our leadership has taken our hand, held us up, and is walking down the road with us," she said.
With her unbridled passion for school nutrition and effusive commitment to the welfare of students, it is easy to understand how Ms. Paine secured a charitable donation and won the backing of the senior-most levels of leadership in her district.
“I try to push nutrition…so if there's any chance for me to serve a meal to a student,
I'm going to latch on to that opportunity."