The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country. We thank them for sharing their stories! To learn more about FNS nutrition assistance efforts, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/usdanutrition
By Stewart Eidel, School and Community Nutrition Programs, Maryland State Department of Education
USDA Team Nutrition Grants support initiatives designed to improve children’s lifelong eating habits. Thanks to this funding, and by incorporating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and with recipes from the Food and Nutrition Service Team Nutrition website, Maryland’s State Department of Education School and Community Nutrition Programs, where I work, developed new training for our school food service professionals called “Culinary Boot Camps.”
We started the Culinary Boot Camps in the summer of 2013, training more than 130 school food service staff at six locations throughout Maryland. This past summer we hosted 140 more at five locations for the week-long course. With the help of two certified chefs, our staff have improved their basic culinary skills, learning ways to skillfully slice vegetables and creatively prepare recipes to lure otherwise finicky children into tasting and enjoying nutritious foods.
And the feedback has been outstanding. Our school food service staff enjoys the opportunity to learn from expert chefs, and our kids are seeing fresher looking foods, food that is bright in appearance, clear and crisp in flavor. I think the kids accept that food just as readily as they accept the chicken patty. Now we know the chicken patty is not going away, so what we’re saying is let’s incorporate these new foods required by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act into our school menus. If we can incorporate those in addition to the items they’re used to, then over time children will learn to accept them and engage in the process of consuming a healthier diet.
Our job is all about nutrition, following standardized recipes and making sure food is safe. But these Culinary Boot Camps allow our food service professionals to think about the flavor and the color and the texture and the appearance of food. It gives them a great background to go to their bosses and say: “Well, I learned these skills…now there are recipes that you can allow us to put on the menu and enhance the quality of the foods for the kids.”
We saw a need to enhance a wide range of skills required to prepare and serve nutritious, high-quality meals that appeal to students. We want our school food service directors to plan menus utilizing more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes…more creative menus that take advantage of the healthier cooking methods and presentation skills honed at our Culinary Boot Camps.
See our school food service staff in action, transforming healthy foods into favorite foods at one of the camps we hosted in Worcester County, Md.