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Spicing up school lunch: Bringing authentic, ethnic food to schools

July 27, 2022
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Sara Parthasarathy and Partha Sabniviss, Co-Founders, Flavor Temptations

Sara Parthasarathy and Partha Sabniviss

Sara and Partha left their jobs as IT professionals to pursue their dream of bringing great Indian food to fellow Americans.

At Flavor Temptations, it has been our mission since 2012 to bring energy and joy to kitchens across the globe through exciting aromas, new flavors and the quality ingredients of our cultural Indian cooking. We believe that when friends and families come together to cook and dine, it creates strong bonds and unforgettable experiences. We help people make meals and create memories, while experiencing recipes from our culture. Our pre-packaged spice kits include authentic family recipes, organic spices sourced directly from India and step-by-step instructions that teach our customers how to easily cook up delicious Indian food from scratch.  Our retail family-sized products are available at local grocery stores and online on Amazon and our website — https://flavortemptations.com. But a few years ago, we discovered that our products could serve people at a much larger scale than just their kitchen at home.

In 2018, we went to Rochester, Minnesota for a trade show where we met distributors from a large school district. They tried the product and loved it. The executive chef of the school district took samples and decided that our product would be perfect for their audience of roughly 25,000 children. They asked us, “how big of a batch can we make?” At the time, our largest spice packs yielded about 30 lbs. of finished product. And they were looking to cook roughly 400 gallons per batch! Once we adapted to their production needs, we delivered our first round of extra-large sized spice kits. The school district did a taste test with their children and found that over 80% of their kids were interested in seeing our Indian entree on their menu. That is when we realized that we had an opportunity to help a new customer segment diversify their menus with exciting new global flavors that are healthy, flavorful and chock full of deliciousness!

From there, we reached out to various school districts in Wisconsin with the data from this initial taste test in Minnesota – and they were enticed with our spice kits! A couple of years ago, we decided to introduce an award-winning curry sauce that makes it even easier to make a variety of Indian dishes. We call this our ‘speed-scratch’ option. Now, we are proud to provide our food service products to over 50 school districts in the Midwest and plan to expand to many more in the future.

When our children attended public school, they were presented with two vegetarian lunch options: cheese pizza or salad. It’s safe to say they ate plenty of pizza. Nowadays, it’s become apparent to us that food service directors have a genuine interest in providing global flavors and more plant-based items to their students. What’s most exciting is that the students share that sentiment since many of them are adopting plant-based food. This has given us an immense appreciation for food service teams around the country that are actively seeking out ways to introduce their kids to new flavors during school lunch. In many cases, they just don’t know where to start, or how to go about it.

Student sampling Indian food at Madison East High School.

Sara handing out samples to a student at Madison East High School.

There are many roadblocks to accomplishing this at a large scale in such a heavily regulated setting. Each dish must comply with government nutrition standards and portion size regulations. Budget constraints often demand a reliance on USDA Foods, which incentivize more traditional options. Food service staffs are likely to require culinary training to master un-familiar ingredients and prep instructions at a time when kitchen efficiency is more important than ever due to labor shortages. But, if school districts are willing, we have discovered an easily replicable blueprint to bring authentic new dishes to their students.

We begin by partnering with the school district culinary trainers to create thorough instructions — tailored to each district’s specific equipment, language and food safety regulations. From there, the service teams have their authentic ingredients and step-by-step instructions to offer their students a new take on the traditional school lunch.

And we must acknowledge the importance of the school lunch. In many cases, these kids may not have another meal waiting for them when they return home. As a student, how are you supposed to focus on learning when you come to school hungry every single day? And as a teacher, how are you supposed to execute your lesson plans when your students are hungry? That is why we find it essential to provide these children with nutritious and authentic lunch options they are excited about — beyond the traditional pizza and salad.

Since we are a Wisconsin-based business, we look for opportunities to grow other businesses in our state by partnering with Wisconsin-based suppliers. For example, our best-selling curry sauce is manufactured by local businesses, and we purchase packaging and labels from businesses operating in our state. We firmly believe that together, we can help elevate Wisconsin business communities by supporting each other.

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