Sunday, August 21, 2011

Farm to School Fair

Pat Lanni of Lanni Orchards in Lunenberg, MA speaking to a student
While most schools were on summer break this past July, the Perkins School for the Blind in Somerville, MA was still in session and held it’s first Farm-To-School fair.  I’ve never been to a farm-to-school fair before.  While I was there as a volunteer greeter, I was also there to watch and learn.  

Holding a Farm-to-School Fair is one way to introduce a school community to local agriculture and generate support and interest for farms to work with schools.  
At Perkins, students, staff, and parents sampled just-picked cucumbers and tomatoes with basil puree; they tasted juicy peaches, blueberries and golden raspberries; they sipped on cool mint tea while making mint tea bags at the Hands-On Herb table. 

Can't wait for winter to be over! 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Getting a better burger to school

On my top ten list of things to replace on my school lunch menu is our burgers.  Of course, it’s hard to replace the thaw-and-serve version – it’s inexpensive, easy to prepare, and kids generally like it.

Last spring, I heard that a nearby school district is serving antibiotic and hormone-free burgers traceable to local farms.  I was very much intrigued.  It turns out the food service director works with a local fast food chain, b.good, which brings their burgers to her schools. 

Breaking the stereotypes about fast food, b.good is one of many fast food restaurants that aim to serve quality food at a reasonable price point.  (Let’s see, there’s also Chipotle, Ugrill, and my very own establishment, Bon Me Truck.  More about this trend, and shameless self-promotion about my food truck to come in a future post.)  When I went to my neighborhood b.good earlier this school year, I had a buffalo burger and roasted cauliflower.  Not your typical fast-food grub, right?  While B.good serves food, fast (in under 5 minutes) it isn’t the scary, over-processed foods people typically associate with fast food.  The buns are made with whole grains.  The meat in locally-sourced, and they’re transparent about their process.    

B.good came to my school back in November.  It was wildly popular.  Because my school has an all-you-can-eat-policy, some students took full advantage of this (five burgers, yikes!).

How doe it work? B.good comes by truck stocked with burgers, a grill, and staff to cook and fully assemble the burgers for lunch.  My staff didn’t need to prepare a main meal that day.  

What b.good is doing with schools is an interesting approach to providing quality burgers, a school lunch staple, to schools.  My kitchen can’t handle making burgers from scratch at this moment, so it was a nice treat for everyone at my school.  However, the cost of b.good burgers is astronomical compared to the cost of serving burgers thaw-and-serve.  Not only is my school paying for better quality raw ingredients but we’re outsourcing the labor involved in producing a main meal even as we already have staff set up to do that work.

Some public schools in Boston work with b.good good regularly.  They make it work by charging a little more for the meal, and  other lunch options often get a boost in sales, like drinks, when serving such a meal.  At my school, where lunch is all-you-can-eat, I generally can’t reconcile the huge additional cost to the budget.   

Monday, February 21, 2011

Homemade mac n’ cheese for 500

My kitchen is serving homemade macaroni and cheese for the whole school this Thursday.  I thought it would be informative to share the process by which a menu item is transformed from thaw and serve to homemade.  
Previously, we used a frozen, full-fat version and cut it with extra whole grain pasta.  This Thursday, we will make our own sauce and mix it with 50 pounds of Barilla Plus elbow macaroni.  To get a head start, we'll boil the pasta the day before so that we have stove space to make the sauce come Thursday morning. 

I based my recipe off of one from the Massachusetts Farm to School Project cookbook because it's a lower-fat bulk recipe.  I also heard of using cauliflower puree as a way of adding body to the sauce while sneaking in a vegetable.  I ordered a case of twelve heads of cauliflower just for this purpose. 

I tested a mini recipe a few weeks ago at home.  My husband, a mac and cheese connoisseur, approved of the lower-fat, whole grain version.  The pictures on this post are from my home batch. 

Will students approve of the new homemade macaroni and cheese?  Stay tuned for a post about Thursday's meal!    


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hello, Change!

New lunch favorite: chicken tacos w/ cheese and salsa 

Hi All, Happy New Year! Sorry it's been such a long time since my last post.  For the last three months, I've been quite busy: I got married, and I'm preparing to open my own food business this spring.  However, I would like to continue blogging about school lunch.  
30 pounds of locally-sourced roasted butternut squash

Change is the current theme in my school kitchen, and my six-person staff is accustomed (and perhaps a bit wary) of this.  As the new director of food services, I have implemented some drastic changes.  I'm proud of how far the kitchen has come in five months, and I'd like to share the successes and failures.         

Chicken and veggie stir-fry, a tough dish to make for 500
So, here's a preview of some future blog entries that will be coming your way: 
-lessons learned at a School Nutrition Association conference
-making homemade mac and cheese 
-working with a local burger company to bring well-raised and locally-source burgers to my school
-the search for quality processed products
-testing and standardizing recipes for 500 
-and of course, lots of pictures and info about changes to my school lunch menu, including menu items pictured above

Monday, November 15, 2010

Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are a wonderful, hearty school lunch food for the winter months.  Preschoolers and adults like them, and they can be dressed up in so many ways to make a fun meal.  Our salad bar morphs into a baked potato bar for the day, and I’ve found that it’s been very easy to upgrade the fixins: 

Last year, defrosted chopped broccoli
This year, fresh, chopped broccoli, blanched, and bright green

Last year, sour cream
This year, sour cream mixed with fat-free plain yogurt (and no one even knows!)

Last year, dried powder chives
This year, sliced fresh scallions

Last year, potatoes wrapped in foil
This year, no foil (500 fewer pieces of foil in a trash and less work for the kitchen.  The one negative about no foil is that the potatoes don’t stay as hot once out of the oven.)  

Here are some other things we continue to served on the bar (and possibilities for future upgrades): bacon bits (chopped bacon), shredded cheese, canned baked beans (lentil salad), chopped tomatoes, bottled salsa (house-made salsa). 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Small changes

Improving the menu this year has been all about making small changes rather than drastic ones.  For example, we still serve hot dogs, but instead of the usual accompaniment of rice and beans from a boxed mix, we made a brown rice, carrot, and raisin salad.  The recipe we used is based off of one from the “Recipes for Schools” section of the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution website.   
We baked off a pan of brown rice and tossed it with shredded carrots, raisins, and sliced scallions for a bit of color.  Then we mixed the salad with a sweet and sour dressing of orange juice, honey, and mustard.  We served our salad hot.  Some of the older students were really skeptical about it but then admitted they liked it after they tried it.  To find the recipe on Jamie's website, click on the link above and click on the Recipes with Menu Planner pdf.      
On a side note: Many a thanks to our school nurse and nutrition director, Beth. She printed out copies of all the School Revolution recipes and brought them along to a meeting when we were writing the November menu.  The last two months have been really hectic in the kitchen, but when  there are others trying to help me improve school lunch, it makes it that much easier :) 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

November Menu

Can't read the items? See below for a close-up version

My kitchen is finally fully staffed, and I’ve got a new cook on board.  It means that we can truly begin the process of eliminating as much pre-processed foods from our main menu as possible.  Here’s the tentative menu for November.  You will see that there’s still an assortment of items on the menu that I can’t wait to remove, but one item at a time J

I’ve circled all items that we’ve improved, changed, or upgraded in one form or another this year.  Some changes are small, like substituting fresh veggies over frozen ones whereas larger changes are…an adventure!  At my school, our main meals are essentially buffet-style - students and staff can come up for as many helping of it as they like.  Whenever we serve a brand new item, we have to get ready for people coming back for seconds, thirds, or if they’re 6’5” basketball players on the varsity team, fourths! 

I will be writing in more detail about certain menu items.  I’ve got quite a lot to say.  Please few free to post questions about items.