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Lunchtime Solutions Food Example

Culinary innovator sets up test kitchen at Nebraska City

Posted on: January 18, 2024   |   Category: News
Manager of Culinary Innovation Mitch Novak being interviewed

Lunchtime Solutions tasks Mitch Novak with making school lunch more appealing

Wednesday, January 17th 2024, 5:26 PM CST

By Dan Swanson, News Channel Nebraska – River Country

NEBRASKA CITY – Nebraska City High School is being primed with a test kitchen to churn out innovative entrees for student feedback this winter and ‘jazz up’ school menus beginning next fall.

Mitch Novak is manager of culinary innovation for the food management company Lunchtime Solutions, which handles food service at Nebraska City and Syracuse schools in River Country, as well as Ogallala, Hastings and Columbus.

He is tasked with answering the question, what can food providers do to make school lunch more appealing to students?

Novak: “It may be taking favored foods of theirs that they enjoyed for years and putting a new twist on it, or it may be coming up with a completely new recipe that they’ve never tried before.”

His mission of culinary innovation aims for a menu platform that the company can replicate from Nebraska to South Dakota, where 50,000 lunches are served daily.

While the logistics of getting the food on students’ plates are important, Novak says the biggest challenges for him are linked to the creativity involved in understanding food trends an delivering food that meets nutritional standards while maximizing appeal.

Novak: “Of course they want their pizza, they want their chicken nuggets, but what are their other interests? That’s where I come in. I just get creative, go through magazines, look through articles, see what’s trending, try a recipe. Once I get up and running, I will be doing sampling for students, so I will grab a recipe that looks good to me and go up to the high school, put it together, take it down to the dining room and offer samples and get that immediate feedback.”

He said the immediate feedback from the Nebraska City test kitchen could help the food service capitalize on recent food trends.

“Currently we’re seeing bowl concepts, like where you have the KFC chicken bowl, where it’s mashed potatoes, the corn, the gravy, everything in the bowl. We’re looking at some ideas with that.”

Novak, who began working in food service in high school and pursued his education in food management, said a recipe one might see at a restaurant may not fit in a school setting, where  USDA guidelines set a limit on the amount of sodium and favor consumption of fruits and vegetables. He said it’s rewarding because of the kids.

Novak: “We do it for the kids. That’s our number one goal. It’s to be here to take care of the kids. Our mission statement as a company is ‘fueling the minds of the future.’ My 100 percent bet is if you go into any one of our accounts you’ll see the same passion. Our care for the kids is the bottom line.”

He said social media is an influence today on what foods the teens are seeking.