During the month of May, 75 school district nutrition personnel attended regional Team Nutrition Chef Workshops held at four locations throughout Iowa. The Department of Education Bureau of Nutrition, Health and Transportation partnered with Iowa State University Extension Nutrition and Health Program Specialists and members of the American Culinary Federation of Iowa to “culinize” school meals.
The workshop goal was to make school meals more visually appealing to their customers--students who are used to eating many of their meals at restaurants and foods courts, and to increase amounts of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce the fat and sodium.
Chefs provided their expertise on ways to jazz up the plate while working with groups of school personnel preparing entrees and side dishes. During this food production time, other workshop attendees discussed ways to better merchandise the meals and market the child nutrition program. One strategy discussed was to communicate use of healthful options to parents and district patrons. Kids know that chicken nuggets are served but parents need to know that these are baked and made with whole grain breading.
- At the Ottumwa workshop, participants experimented with sea salt and fresh ground pepper as the seasoning on vegetables versus table salt. Ounce per ounce, these upscale seasonings may be more costly, but they won the taste test hands down, and because of stronger flavor, less of the product was used.
- The menu at Moville included a roasted vegetable burrito with black beans wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. This meat alternate item is a lower cost option as well as healthier! The whole wheat tortillas are an Iowa Commodity item available to schools this year.
- The Chef at Cedar Rapids opted to work solely with Commodity foods, to demonstrate ways these foods can be included into healthy menu options. Menu items included stir-fry brown rice with ham and egg, smoky ham and bean soup, roast turkey with sweet and sour fruit sauce (made with canned apricots) and breakfast burrito made with pork crumbles and served on a whole wheat tortilla. Many new school menu ideas were generated.
- In Ankeny, the Chef used whole grains throughout the menu, such as whole wheat goulash and triple berry buckle made with whole grain topping.
Participants rated the success of the workshops very highly. Comments for what they found most useful included:
- learning how to improve the positive image of our food service operation,
- the uses of different commodities,
- more ideas for healthy menus, and
- hands-on cooking.
Several of the schools attending indicated their intention to apply for and achieve the HealthierUS School Challenge award for nutrition excellence.