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Starting from Scratch in School Kitchens

Today’s guest blogger Christine M. Cliff comes from Nutrition Notes by LZX. Christine is a registered and licensed dietitian. For six years, she has been the Training Coordinator and Senior Nutrition Specialist for the Illinois Nutrition Education and Training (NET) Program. She creates and coordinates statewide nutrition trainings for school and childcare staff throughout Illinois…

On January 25, 2012, the final school meal rules were rolled out. Prior to these rules being finalized, schools around the nation have been striving to enhance the quality of the meals that they serve to their kids. Some improvements include decreasing the fat and sodium in the recipes and increasing the number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains being served. Taking it one step further, many schools are literally starting from scratch…scratch cooking that is...as a way to enhance the nutritional quality in their meals.

A few weeks ago, I listened in on an enlightening webinar- “Back to Basic: How to Incorporate Scratch Cooking Techniques into your School Kitchen.” Several school nutrition professionals discussed how they included scratch cooking methods and its benefits. I want to highlight a few of those benefits that Dr. Robert S Lewis from Elmonte City School District in California addressed.

  1. Lower food costs- They utilized several USDA Foods (formerly known as commodities), including whole wheat flour, sweet potatoes, eggs, fresh and frozen fruits and veggies. Dr. Lewis’ staff used the whole wheat flour to make their own sub rolls. Each scratch baked roll cost $0.06 vs. $0.30 for a premade roll. The labor costs of scratch cooking are still a cheaper option. Not only is there less waste, but foods taste fresher.
  2. Better eye appeal- Elmonte Schools enhanced the presentation and added more color when they created the recipes. Presentation is key to drawing the kids in and enticing them to try new healthy foods.
  3. Increased sales- Students know what is hip and trendy. Elmonte Schools appealed to students’ consumerism and served more “adult” foods like chicken teriyaki with broccoli and brown rice. Also, they asked students to taste test new recipes, which need to meet 70% approval before being added to the menu.
  4. Nutritional quality-When Elmonte Schools make their own recipes; they have more control over the amount and types ingredients used. Cooks can choose to use better quality foods and decrease ingredients like salt and fat to make them healthier.

Scratch cooking has many benefits to enhancing the quality of school meals. Though it may be a challenge to have all items made from scratch, schools can start small. Look at your menus and discuss with your staff which items can start to be made quick-scratch versus buying it prepackaged. Remember to take one step at a time…the students and parents will thank you for it.

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