FARMINGTON – Jazzing up the local school menus not only makes each meal more appealing, but studies have shown good nutrition plays a major role in a student’s ability to learn.
With that in mind, 36 school cafeteria staff members from the five school districts of Franklin County: Mt Blue Regional School District, RSU 73, MSAD 58, Stratton and Rangeley, gathered for a day of professional development designed to help improve school lunches.
Since passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture last summer established mandatory minimum professional standard requirements for those who manage and operate the federal breakfast and lunch school programs. School nutrition professionals will now receive a minimum number of training and professional development hours each year.
“Our schools have the potential to play a major role in preparing our students’ learning ability by supplying nutritious breakfasts and lunches during the school day and ones that appeal to them,” said Alyce Cavanaugh, RSU 9’s school health coordinator.
Cavanaugh, with Andrew Hutchins, a chef and child nutrition consultant with the Maine Department of Education and Molly Clark, Let’s Go! program coordinator with the Healthy Community Coalition, worked together to design the training session held at the cafeteria at the Mt. Blue Campus on Friday.
On the day of training, they were joined by Chef Mike Flynn and his staff from the Hyde School in Bath, Let’s Go! Senior Program Manager Heidi Kessler and John Willey from the Maine Farm and Sea Corporation who helped provide the food services personnel a day full of learning new culinary techniques.
Hutchins demonstrated “how to implement theme meals that will ‘wow’ the students, incorporate ethnic foods into the menu and showed them professional food presentation and merchandising that make a difference by increasing eye appeal and stimulating the appetite,” Cavanaugh said.
Kessler discussed the “Smarter Lunchroom” movement, created at Cornell University that highlights no-cost and low-cost changes that help nudge students of all ages to make healthy food choices. Among the changes taught included moving and highlighting fruit, giving vegetables fun and creative names, and placing white milk first in the lunchroom line have been shown to increase sales and consumption of healthy items while reducing waste.
“In the kitchen, Chef Andy and Chef Mike demonstrated and passed on their culinary skills to the food services personnel,” Cavanaugh said. They showed the staff how to prepare gourmet pizzas with fresh spinach, caramelized onions and roasted vegetables; to make teen favorites, such as an Asian noodle bowl and Taco bars and roasted chicken wraps.
After the food preparation was completed, staff modeled new food services kitchen wear to determine which ones were the most popular among the staff, with the bright blue aprons winning hands down.
“It was a full day with lots of learning, networking and new ideas for the coming school year,” Cavanaugh said.
The workshop was funded by Mt Blue Regional School District, Let’s Go Smarter Lunchrooms and the PEP grant.