Walden School lunch goes high-end with local restaurant fare

<p>Walden Elementary School student Kamilija Intaite stands in front of the prize winning logo designed for Kiddos Catering. | Photo courtesy of Kiddos Catering.</p>

Walden Elementary School student Kamilija Intaite stands in front of the prize winning logo designed for Kiddos Catering. | Photo courtesy of Kiddos Catering.

For students at Deerfield’s Walden Elementary School, lunchtime this year is often like dining out at one of their favorite restaurants.

For their parents, the experience involves only a matter of computer clicks.

Kiddos Catering, Inc., took over the Walden lunch program Jan. 24, offering catered meals from such restaurants as Carson’s and Potbelly’s in Deerfield, Piero’s and Once Upon a Bagel in Highland Park and Little Louie’s in Northbrook.

“We offer food the kids know and like,” said Kiddos owner Michelle Kolesky, of Buffalo Grove. “We offer one vendor each day with five to eight options.”

Parents order their children’s meals by going to Kiddo’s website and placing an order at least two weeks in advance — although they’re not set in stone if tastes change. Customers can choose how many days a week they purchase lunch, and cancellations for illness are allowed. Kids continue to have the option to bring a meal from home.

Kolesky started her Lincolnshire-based business seven years ago and currently operates programs at schools and camps in a number of North Shore communities, including Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka and Glencoe, in addition to Deerfield.

South Park Elementary School will start using Kiddo’s services when the 2014-15 term begins. Walden has a lunch program four days a week and South Park three.

Lunches in Deerfield Public Schools District 109 are operated by each school’s Parent Teacher Organization. At Walden and South Park, the PTOs sign the contract with Kiddos, leaving the district out of the equation.

“I love it,” Walden PTO Co-president Linsey Friedman said. “It helps us in so many ways. The food is easy to order. It’s a very user-friendly website and the kids love the food.”

One of Kolesky’s goals from the beginning has been thinking local. She uses area restaurants that are well-known to Deerfield families and orders enough food to allow her to negotiate items not normally found on the menu at a particular eatery.

“We bring in all the food from local restaurants,” Kolesky said. “We’re supporting local business and the money is going back into the community. Everybody wins.”

Kiddos’ diversity of vendors also yields a lot of menu choices. There are Asian lunches from Chin’s in Glencoe, pizza from Piero’s, Mexican food from La Casa de Isaac & Moishe in Highland Park and brunch items from Once Upon a Bagel. New to the program in the fall will be Dear Franks in Deerfield.

Kiddos also has the ability to handle the logistics of the operation from the initial order through clean-up at the cafeteria. In the past the work has been done by volunteers from the PTOs in Deerfield.

While volunteers are still involved, Kiddos’ hands-on approach makes it easier as more and more families put two parents in the workforce, according to South Park PTO vice president Julie Letwat, who coordinates the program there.

“The demographics of Deerfield are changing,” Letwat said. “With more moms working, it’s getting harder to find volunteers. It’s been a chore the past year filling the spots. Outsourcing makes sense.”

Kolesky also goes out of her way to make sure the children get a nourishing lunch each day, even when the fare is not something normally associated with healthy eating.

“All menu items are made fresh daily from fresh ingredients,” Kolesky said. “Every lunch has an entrée and two sides. One is almost always fresh fruit. Nothing is fried. Because we are a volume business things are available for us we would not be able to do with one school.”

The PTOs also have the ability to use the program as a fundraiser. Once Kolesky and the organization agree on a price, the PTO has the opportunity to add something to what parents pay for the benefit of the children.

“Some of the money goes to the PTO,” Friedman added. “It helps the kids and is part of the success.”

She said this is communicated to the families before they enroll in the program.

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