Beautiful School Food

Beautiful School Food

Check out the short video clips at the bottom of this article to see the beautiful food!

During my tenure as the director of food services for Wenatchee School District, we made huge strides in the areas of Farm to School and scratch cooking. Our program won awards and received recognition around the state and nation for our practice of purchasing local products and scratch cooking in the school lunch program. For the past several years, the Wenatchee School District, in partnership with the Washington School Nutrition Association (WSNA) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), participated in Taste Washington Day as a way to celebrate agriculture in our State and to help students understand where their food comes from.

Serving locally grown foods was a normal, daily occurrence at Wenatchee Schools for many years but Taste Washington Day provided us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the strength of the district’s ‘Farm-to-School’ and scratch cooking programs. Wenatchee School District has been recognized as a leader in supporting local agriculture and because of that, First Lady of Washington State, Trudi Inslee, visited the district on our 2014 Taste Washington Day to eat a local lunch featuring many of our dozen+ local farm vendors!

Take a look at these videos I created of several of our past Taste WA Day celebrations and I think you will be amazed that what you’re seeing is actually school food!

Your district can do this too! Contact me and I can help you build an amazing Farm to School program also!

2016 Taste WA Day


2015 Taste WA Day


Mid-Winter Taste WA Day 2015


2014 Taste WA Day and Trudi Inslee’s Visit

School Lunchologist

School Lunchologist

Available for all of your Food Service Training Needs!

I just wanted to share with you a few bullet points about some of the services I am offering to schools and other food service operations through my consulting business, Creative Culinary Solutions. With 37 years of experience in the food service industry as a chef and food service director, I am prepared to help you with all of your training and troubleshooting needs!

I am focused on helping school districts who want to improve their operations by:

Food Based Assistance:

  • Doing more scratch cooking and focusing on processing whole foods in simple and efficient ways:
  • “Live Setting” Cook Training: I will train school food service teams in their live work environment, during regular production! Your district can continue to earn valuable reimbursements while receiving the quality skills your teams can use everyday! No need to wait for early release days to train your teams. These trainings are completely customized to meet your team’s most urgent training needs.
  • How to best utilize commodity foods in a scratch and fast-scratch formats
  • Recipe development and Standardization
  • Menu Development and Design
  • Implementing Salad Bars in Schools

Farm to School: 

  • Getting started with farm to school
  • How to market and grow an existing F2S program for maximum benefit

Program Admin Assistance:

  • Administrative Review Prep
  • Wellness Policy Revisions
  • New Director Training and Interim Director Services
  • Financial Management: Getting Back in the Black!
  • Transitioning from Contracted Foodservice to self-op
  • Central Kitchen Operations – Starting or Improving
  • And more!

All of my services and classes are completely customized to meet your district’s specific training needs and I travel!

Food Bars: The Gateway to Serving More Whole Foods

Food Bars: The Gateway to Serving More Whole Foods

Increasing Participation and Improving Public Perception in Your Operation

Take a look at this one-minute video showing food bars in use in Wenatchee Schools

One of the biggest changes I made in my first year as food service director at Wenatchee schools, seventeen years ago, was to add salad bars. We opened the very first day of school that year with salad bars at every single school and never looked back! It was an amazing improvement! People love the variety that salad bars offer and kids aren’t any different. Beautiful, fresh, colorful, and self-serve! Nothing wrong with that, right? Participation immediately began to increase and the public perception of our program was greatly improved with this one simple change!

Food bars, salad bars fruit and veggie bars, whatever you want to call them, are incredibly important in the school environment. Sure, it takes some time to train the kids. You may even need to enlist some teacher help for the kinders and first graders but they catch on quickly and they love to self select from all those fresh, colorful whole foods!

It isn’t that hard to get started either! Food bars are expensive but bowls, pans and table top sneeze shields are accessible and a great way to start if you can’t currently afford food bars.

Grant funding is available for salad bars, too. I applied for a salad bar grant during my last year at Wenatchee schools and over the course of the calendar year, I received twelve brand new food bars…for free! At an approximate value of $3,500 each, that is $42,000 worth of equipment all for filling out a grant app that took me fifteen minutes!

Salad bars are in reach for your district. If you have questions about how to get started, please let me know! Remember, we are talking about nourishing our nation’s children and that, is serious business!

The “LIVE-SETTING”​ Approach

The “LIVE-SETTING”​ Approach

The “LIVE-SETTING”​ Approach to School Food Service Culinary Training

I had the pleasure of teaching a cooking class to a group of school food pros using a “Live Setting” approach. In a “Live Setting” approach, school food service teams train in their live working environment during regular production. In this format, your program can continue to earn valuable reimbursements and simultaneously receive the quality skills your teams need and can use everyday! There is no need to wait for early release days to train your teams. These trainings are completely customized to work with your equipment, your environment, and your situation, to meet your team’s most urgent training needs, all in live production.

Here is how a “live-setting” Class comes together. This example is from Concrete School district.

Concrete has been hard at work growing their farm to school program, so we will be utilizing as much local product as possible. This will give us a platform to not only support local farms and serve kids fresh, delicious, REAL FOOD but it also provides an excellent marketing opportunity. For marketing purposes at Concrete we are making this an entire school event and calling it a Mid-Winter Taste of Washington Day. The F2S Coordinator for Concrete is preparing a press release to go out to local newspapers. Pictures, videos, and descriptions of the events will be prepared for their social media outlets. As program directors, we should take every opportunity to “shout it from the rooftops” when we are going to the extra effort to feed kids better!

The training will be a complete package. Not only will it be focused on Whole Foods and Scratch Cooking in a “Live Setting” but we’ll also incorporate Farm to school and Marketing. If you’ve followed my articles of late you may recognize that I am talking about the four pillars that are needed to succeed and create positive, sustainable, change in today’s child nutrition environment!

How these “Live Setting” classes come together:

  • A week or two in advance, I’ll work behind the scenes with the director to create a customized training plan that will work well in their environment. The last thing I want to do is come in and teach something that won’t be applicable tomorrow. The goal is to always teach something that the team can duplicated later, on their own, without having to drastically change how they do business.
  • I’ll send the director a detailed list of all of the ingredients required to pull off the menu we decide upon. We will also work in as many commodities foods as possible to save a few bucks. The director makes sure all of the ingredients are in stock on the day of the training.
  • On the day of the training, at the team’s normally scheduled work time, we will convene in the kitchen and go to work! Through the course of the day, I direct the team in the execution of the meal and focus on knife skills and other foundational culinary principals such as braising and the use of salt in scratch cooking, in this case.
  • We discuss staging, timing for freshness, and how best to utilize their cooking equipment (steamers, ovens, griddles, hot/cold holding, etc).
  • We explore some best practices for service to students. In this case, I will teach them what I call, the “deconstructed casserole method”. It is basically what it sounds like. We keep all of the components in separate steam table pans. This will allow for improved student choice and provide customization options. This approach also allows for an instant vegetarian option. With the meat kept separate from all of the other components, you can meet child nutrition regs by “offering” the protein which the student, choosing to eat vegetarian, can decline, as long as they have the three required components. Works great! Another nice thing about the “deconstructed casserole method” is that you can greatly minimize food waste. Leftover foods are all separate instead of mixed together which facilitates proper cooling and allows for re-fabrication of the leftovers into a new dish tomorrow, maximizing yield. Most reheated casseroles are not appealing to customers. Seriously…eww…
  • We also discuss and prepare for options, such as “finishing bars”. I have found that kids love to customize their meals with little self-serve add-ons. In this case, we may provide some sort of bottled hot sauce for those who like it spicy or maybe some fresh chopped herbs or gremolata for a great blast of sodium-free freshness.
  • Then the funnest part! We set it up and serve it to the kids! Instant gratification for everyone! The kids get a fantastic, scratch-made, whole foods-based lunch and the food service team gets the immediate satisfaction of having prepared this new menu they never new they could produce at school!

Here is Concrete’s Menu:

Braised “Local Beef” Stew (beef chuck)

Scratch-Made, Pan Gravy (a delicious by-product of the beef braising process)

Roasted Local Winter Root Veggies (Carrots, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabagas)

“Smashed” Potatoes (local German Butterballs)

Whole Grain Focaccia (made from “Shepards Grain” whole wheat Flour, which is grown in WA state)

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?!

The last thing I would like to mention about the “live setting” approach to training is that it is such an effective method for really connecting with, and retaining, the material being taught. Instead of just a theoretical classroom training or even a demo approach, staff get to touch, taste, serve, and see everything they make come to fruition in the form a meal served to their regular, daily customers. Hands-on skill elements combine with the live-action production of a meal. It’s a fantastic training approach! And, as mentioned before, your team gets trained, kids are served a fantastic lunch and you get to collect your reimbursement all the while! It’s a win-win for everyone!

If you’re intrigued by the “live-setting” concept, give me a call and we can discuss some options for a training in your district!

Pillar 1 ~ How to Succeed

Pillar 1 ~ How to Succeed

How to Succeed and Create Positive, Sustainable, Change in Today’s Child Nutrition Environment

I’m here to create some dissatisfaction…

It’s not a secret that, in recent years, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the changes in child nutrition regulations due to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Kids are frustrated, parents are frustrated, and many program directors have been struggling to adapt their operations to meet the new regulations and keep the kids lining up.

I don’t think too many people would argue that the changes required by the HHFKA were needed. Public opinion shows that most Americans support stronger nutrition standards for school meals and all foods sold in schools. Rightfully so, they are concerned about childhood obesity, diabetes and other avoidable food-related diseases and believe that the availability of healthy food in schools is key to student learning and their overall well-being.

A recent survey of child nutrition directors by The Pew Charitable Trusts group reveals that success is possible in the HHFKA current environment. The report shows that by innovating in a few key areas, you can create a successful, local child nutrition program. You can do it all within budget, serve a great variety of tasty, nutritious foods, and improve the perception of your program.

Aren’t you sick and tired of hearing all the negative press about school food? The words “school food” trigger the same involuntary, negative reactions from people as does the word “dentist” (no offense to dentists intended). An example of how people are “eating up” the negative media about school meals is found in a Buzzfeed video I came across recently. You don’t even need to watch the video to get my point. This video has received over 14 million views at the time of this writing! Negative media about school food service, permeates the internets and people love clicking this stuff! To exaggerate my point, do a google search for positive media about school meals (try “farm to school”) and see the disparity in numbers of views. Certainly, there are many examples of school food service being done well but as a general rule, our industry’s approval ratings are low. Frozen convenience foods are the norm. Whole, fresh foods are scarce and major improvements are needed.

In the child nutrition program I ran for over 17 years, I found these four things to be foundational to our success:

1. Increase the use of whole foods and decrease the use of processed foods

2. Cook from scratch whenever possible

3. Start a Farm to School program and procure locally as much as possible

4. Marketing: Shout your effort from the rooftops!

Perhaps you too are dissatisfied with the current state of school food service but just don’t know what to do about it or where to begin. Innovative directors are making positive changes with success! My hope is that we can join forces, leverage our corporate dissatisfaction and create a community of people who will take action to make real, sustainable change in the child nutrition arena. We can support each other in the effort and the place to start is right there in your program in your own community.

I will be expanding on each of these four key areas, and explain why they are critical to success in child nutrition programs. Emphasizing these four things will be better for kids, improve food quality, improve public perception of your program and increase participation.

Join forces! Start Anywhere! Take Action!

Let’s talk about it!