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Hot Lunch

August 2018
Hot Lunch
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Jeremy Tunstill serves monthly cafeteria menus with a side of humor 

Jeremy Tunstill manages the Seamless Summer Feeding Program, through which CCSD provides 170 churches and community centers with free breakfasts and lunches (like corn dogs and fruit) to serve children throughout the break.

Charleston County School District (CCSD) feeds lunch to about 28,000 children each day. And how do all of those kids’ parents learn what’s hitting their plates? The unenviable task of e-mailing menus falls to one man: Jeremy Tunstill. But this CCSD nutrition services officer has become known as something of a cafeteria comedian, peppering his epistles with anecdotes about his own experiences as a dad (like the time his son learned to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”…with his armpit). We chatted him up over summer break.

CM: How did you get the idea to make the monthly menu e-mails more personal and entertaining?
JT:
I guess at some point I decided, ‘I’m going do one a little differently and add a humorous twist.‘ I’m stumbling through parenthood and notice the funny things that happen to my son, Brody, and me. People responded to it and sent e-mails back about their own kids, and it just became this thing.

CM: Have the e-mails helped grow interest in school lunches?
JT:
Last school year, we were up 6.7 percent for lunch and one percent for breakfast. The national trend is up one percent for lunch and down a percent for breakfast. So we’re bucking trends, but I think it’s mostly to do with the food.

CM: How do you sell kids on the meals?
JT:
Number one, don’t get too fancy. They like choices, but not too many choices. And the quality has to be there. You really have to listen to what they want. We get them in focus groups, then go back and test the products with them five or six times.

CM: What’s something you’ve changed after testing?
JT:
We’ve always been a little chintzy with condiments. But our focus groups showed that kids love them—they want to customize their food. So this year, we’re rolling out condiment stations and topping bars at every cash register. For example, if we’re doing a nacho bar, students can add jalapeños, olives, and pico de gallo.

CM: Has your son realized his notoriety yet?
JT:
He’ll be in middle school this year, so at some point he’ll catch wind and I might have to cease and desist.

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Lives: With his 11-year-old son, Brody, on James Island
School Days: Tunstill put himself through the College of Charleston by working in restaurants.
Past Profession: He owned and operated three local Quiznos franchises.