Executive chef Brian Lewis watches food service workers weigh broccoli as they prepare to bake Hatton Chicken Crunch and Garlic Broccoli during training in the Mansfield Senior High kitchen. From left are Melissa Riley of Elgin Local Schools, Linda Frazier of Lexington Local Schools and Suzanne Ramsey of Mansfield City Schools.
For school food-service workers, the task is a two-fold challenge.
First, create meals which incorporate new federal school meal pattern regulations and requirements for use of whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes and reduced sodium cooking techniques.
Second, make those meals attractive to kids.
“It is a challenge of sorts, but it can be done,” said Jane Fortman, food service manager at Mansfield City Schools for 21 years. “We must meet requirements of the National School Lunch program to qualify for federal reimbursement. At the same time we want to serve meals that kids enjoy.”
Meals which accomplish both of those goals were the focus of recent training for food service workers from three districts, led by Fortman and Bethany Lenko, MCS assistant food service manager. Cooks from Lexington Local Schools, Elgin Local Schools and Mansfield participated in the three-hour, after-school session in the Mansfield Senior High School kitchen.
The training, which included preparation of five entrees and five side dishes, focused on some of the Meals that Move recipes issued by the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of School Nutrition.
“The state got a group together to write seasonal recipes,” Fortman told the 20 cooks assembled at Senior High. “These recipes incorporate all that’s required – in terms of content and portion sizes – so you don’t have to worry about it. But the recipes are not mandatory; you also can create your own.”
Mansfield City Schools received a $1,500 state grant to conduct the training. The funds covered the cost of meat, vegetables, fruit and other raw products, printed materials and the participation of Brian Lewis, executive chef at Roxane Laboratories in Columbus. The state wants to get professional chefs involved in schools, Fortman said.
“This is my 26thyear in the food service business. It’s what I know, what I love,” said Lewis, who supervises a kitchen staff of 15 to serve 1,350 employees daily.
“My expertise is there and ready for what we’re going to do today,” he told the assembled cooks. “We are going to prepare some of these recipes provided by the state. But the theme today also is: What are you doing to think outside the box? Try something new. If kids like it, great. If not, you’ve only lost one meal.”
Lenko, like Fortman a registered dietician, prepares lunch menus for Mansfield City Schools a month in advance.
“We use some of the Meals that Move recipes, but about 90 percent are our own creations or from recipes we have on hand,” she said. “We prepare three separate menus -- kindergarten through sixth grade; seventh and eighth grades; and ninth through 12thgrade. All meet nutritional requirements but vary by portion sizes.”
Cooks who participated in the Senior High training were divided into five groups, designated by colors, who prepared Meals that Move recipes under the supervision of Lewis. The dishes, each prepared to yield 25 serving portions, included:
Pink group: Chicken Philly and Sweet Potato Souffle
Green group: Pizza Wrap and Cowboy Corn Salad
Blue group: Chicken Alfredo with a Trist and Northwest Apple Salad
Yellow Group: Quirky Quesadillas and California Casserole
Orange Group: Hatton Chicken Crunch and Garlic Broccoli
The cooks washed dishes and cleaned the kitchen before sitting down to sample their creations and listen to an evaluation by Lewis.
“Some of the dishes needed to be tweaked a little but all were well received,” Fortman said. “One of the differences is that these recipes involve lower fat and lower sodium content. Most of us are used to tasting things higher in fat and sodium.”
Lenko noted that lower target levels for reduced sodium extend to 2023, while new average weekly caloric ranges will be effective next year, as will a requirement for all grains to be whole-grain rich.
Meals that Move incorporates principles embodied in the Healthier US School Challenge, a national initiative emphasizing proper nutrition and exercise. The grant which funded the Mansfield training emphasized “the preparation of healthy school meals and the creation of a healthy nutrition environment at the school.”
“The Meals that Move recipes are used entirely by some school districts. We will use some of them too,” Fortman said. “In the end, we’ll do what we always have done: We’ll listen to what our cooks say. They are on the front lines. They know what kids like.”