The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Chefs: Helping Schools Mix Up the Menu

Chefs: Helping Schools Mix Up the Menu

Health and Wellness

October 30, 2011

Guest Columnist, Frank DiPasquale, Chief Executive Officer, School Nutrition Association

School foodservice professionals across the country are cooking up creative ways to reduce added sodium and sugar in school meals and get kids excited about trying more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In many school districts, chefs are helping to mastermind these healthy changes, utilizing their culinary knowledge to create tasty, nutritious dishes that please the pickiest young eaters.

Although chefs have long played an important role in school cafeterias nationwide, more schools are welcoming chefs into their kitchens since First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Chefs Move to Schools! initiative last year. The program is allowing more schools to benefit from chefs’ talents in recipe development, healthy preparation methods, culinary skills and more.

School foodservice professionals are partnering with chefs to conduct staff training sessions or host nutrition education programs with students. Some school foodservice programs are even managed by professionally trained chefs who oversee all operations. 

In Berlin Public Schools, Connecticut, the students know Foodservice Director Tim Prosinski simply as “Chef Tim.” Prosinski puts his culinary skills to use by hosting regular “Chef Tim Days.” At these special events, Chef Tim cooks the day’s meal right in front of the students at a buffet set up in the cafeteria. Kids get to learn how lunch is prepared, and they are more willing to give their vegetables a try when they see Prosinski in his chef’s whites and hat sautéing colorful produce before their very eyes. 

In Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough County Public Schools District Chef Ben Guggenmos is not only helping spice up school menus, he’s also teaching kids ways to eat healthier at home. During National School Lunch Week (October 10-14, 2011), Chef Ben hosted Healthy Recipe Demonstrations in several Elementary Schools, showing students how to create tasty treats like “Dessert Fruit Pizza” made with nutritious ingredients including fresh blueberries and strawberries, low-fat cream cheese and whole grain English Muffins.

Chefs bring their tricks-of-the-trade to schools, like knowing which herbs can season a dish with less salt and how to bake whole wheat bread that is light and tasty. These are increasingly sought after skills, particularly since January 2011, when the federal government proposed new nutrition standards for school meals that limit sodium and calories and require schools to serve more whole grains and produce.

The proposed standards also require schools to serve legumes, dark green and orange vegetables at least once a week in the lunch lines. Chef Paul Penny, a Chefs Move to Schools! participant, is helping Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (Michigan) get a head start on these new requirements. He worked with kitchen staff in all the district’s Elementary School kitchens to prepare his Sweet Potatoes and Apples recipe and his special Turkey Cherry Chili, loaded with Michigan cherries, red beans and low-fat ground turkey. Chef Paul even visited with students, encouraging them to taste test these healthy dishes.

As we all seek new ways to promote healthier lifestyles for our children, chefs are playing a critical role by sharing their culinary skills, tasty recipes and healthy ideas with schools and their students.

To learn more, and to read School Nutrition Success Stories from across the country, visit www.TrayTalk.org.