Cafeteria workers schooled on healthy meals kids will eat

Chef instructor Fernando Ocampo, left, with LiveWell Colorado, demonstrates how to make celery more appealing by cutting stalks on the bias into sword shapes during a Thursday training session at Central High School in Grand Junction. Nutritional managers with Mesa County School District 51 attended the session.

Making nutritious meals from scratch requires a different skill set than dumping processed foods from a box onto a baking sheet.

With healthier meals the new normal in School District 51 and few school cafeteria workers equipped with a background in non-school food service, many cafeteria workers face a “steep learning curve,” according to Nutrition Services District Manager Diana Tarasiewicz.

That’s why she was pleased local school kitchen managers received training Thursday in everything from how to measure properly without wasting ingredients to the proper way to cut an onion.

“If they’re not shown efficient ways to prepare food, it’s hard to pick up on their own,” Tarasiewicz said. “A lot of people in the school had not been trained in knife skills and interpreting recipes before. We want to be able to empower them to make the right things.”

School District 51 started dropping processed items from its lunch menus to serve more meals made from scratch last year.

The district introduced and tweaked more recipes this year as new federal guidelines take effect for calorie, sodium and other nutritional content.

Making those meals appetizing is key, according to District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp.

“In the fight against obesity, it’s not enough to put healthier items on the tray. It needs to look and taste attractive,” Sharp said.

Lisa Garber, kitchen manager at Wingate Elementary School, said she and other school managers have seen more students bring sack lunches this year as junk food fell off the lunch menu.

She said she hopes to see those numbers go back up as students and cafeteria workers become more familiar with new recipes.

“It takes six cycles for kids to get used to (new food). I think we’re only on our second cycle” of lunch offerings, Garber said.

Garber said she learned techniques at Thursday’s training that will “take a toll off our hands and our bodies.”

Sharp invited LiveWell Colorado to coordinate the workshop, which continues today at Central High School while students are out of the building for conferences.

LiveWell audited the school district’s kitchens earlier this year and partnered with Sharp and some of his colleagues to create a plan for improving the scratch meal process.

The health-centered nonprofit group received funding from the Colorado Health Foundation to help schools across Colorado deliver healthier meals kids want to eat.

LiveWell’s goal is to work with every district in the state by 2022.

In addition to this week’s workshop, LiveWell will provide chefs from around Colorado to work with district cafeteria workers during a school day.

Eagle and Pueblo schools are also receiving guidance from LiveWell this year.

Eight other districts have participated in LiveWell workshops since 2008, according to LiveWell Program Director Venita Currie.


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