Montana Made Marinara is a Hit on Lunch Menus

There were rave reviews from some young food critics when meatball subs with locally produced marinara were served at Belgrade School District #44. The sauce was made with ingredients grown on Montana farms and the initiative was started to help solve a problem brought on by supply chain shortages.  The goal was to have a product consistently available for school nutrition programs.

Making the Montana Marinara

“It has been a guessing game (dealing with supply chain disruptions). One week chicken tenders are easy to get, then they aren’t,” said Brittany Moats, Food Service Director for Belgrade School District #44.  A partnership between the Northwest Food Hub Network and the Montana Office of Public Instruction has helped to bring the marinara to schools.

“This began in response to district requests for locally sourced menu items,” said Dennison Rivera, Director of Communications & Federal Relations for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. “According to the most recent USDA Farm to School Census, 84% of Montana schools are already serving local foods.”  

The base of marinara starts with USDA Foods diced tomatoes, then Montana grown ingredients including onion, carrot, leek, safflower oil, and butternut squash are added at a Montana processing center. 

Tray of sauce for taste tests

“This is a big extension of the farm to school program we already take part in. Using the USDA Foods commodities makes it more economical for the districts,” said Moats. 

To make homemade sauce for an entire state is quite an undertaking. For several weeks, sample runs have been going on at Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, Montana. The first sample run of 320 gallons of the sauce tasted by staff was given a thumbs up, so sauce frozen in bags was prepped to ship to schools.

 “Montana Marinara is a win-win-win: it supports small Montana farmers; it brings delicious, sustainable, locally-sourced food to students across the state; and it celebrates our state’s history of supporting agriculture.” said Kaylee Thornley, Cooperative Development Director of Mission West Community Development Partners and coordinator of the NW Food Hub Network.

Back in Belgrade School District #44, 80 percent of students loved the sauce during the taste tests.

“It is going to be very versatile,” said Moats. “We’ll be able to use it with spaghetti, meatball subs, dunkers, curry recipes or as the tomato base in other recipes like chili.”

Photos of empty lunch trays really tells the story of how well liked the meatball subs were by students! 

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