Maranatha High School chef offers students healthy eating options


He's increased meal consumption at his school almost four fold in less than six months.

"I wanted to transform this into a restaurant," said Jason Francisco, chef at Maranatha High School. "I wanted kids to improve their food IQ so I wanted them to be a little bit of a food snob."

Francisco wears many hats including chef, accountant, and a salesman of sorts as he's gone from serving 150 meals to 550 in just six months time. That's very impressive since his clients are teenagers.

"Before it was very, the food was really greasy and now it's very rich. I just had chicken with brussel sprouts and carrots," said student Billy Birkholz.

"I give them choices. I make it look beautiful and it's up to them to come in and eat," said Francisco.

Prepackaged doesn't work at Maranatha High School. Stock to sauces, it's all made from scratch. On Thursday, citrus herb chicken with sauteed brussel sprouts, sun dried tomatoes or green beans and almonds or peppers stuffed with grass fed beef and crème brule was served.

"I don't sell my menu ahead of time. I do it in a nomadic way where I actually follow the seasons," said Francisco.

He gets bargains by price checking and bartering with purveyors, taking advantage of promotional products sold inexpensively. He manages to use antibiotic free poultry and grass fed beef by working his sources. He plates steaming food when kids line up for an aromatic and visual effect.

"When you think about that, in a restaurant, a meal like we made today would cost about $15-20 in a fine dining establishment," said Francisco.

His is $4. That's less than a fast food meal.

The former Cordon Blue graduate hired two culinary school students as interns and started a teen cooking club. He teaches his methods to others so that other schools can benefit, maybe even LAUSD.

They also attempt to reach different populations. For instance, there's a prom menu for the girls that are watching their weight, there's an athlete's menu for those in sports and for those that miss lunch, there's meals after school.

"If somebody has missed out, we make sure we catch them up," said Kris Dreyer, CFO at Maranatha High School. "We also offer take home meals that parents can order. They'll order an entire four or five family meal and take it home."

The school makes a profit while families eat well.

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