Success in School FOOD Service begins with…

Success in School FOOD Service begins with…

…The FOOD!

It can seem overwhelmingly complicated to figure out why your school food service program isn’t thriving. When you look closely at a struggling operation, you will quickly begin to see all kinds of things that need to be “fixed”. Many will become apparent with a cursory review of the financial reports, but it may not be quite so easy to identify what is at the “root” of the problems?

Start looking at everything that has to do with FOOD.

Anytime there are problems in a food service operation, it’s always a good idea to look at anything and everything to do with FOOD.

Because… it really is all about the FOOD. 

We all understand that budget is a really big deal but it’s so easy to get distracted from what the real focus should be…and that is the FOOD! First, plan your food choices carefully in the form of Cycle Menus. Then procure and manage the food carefully, because the quality of the ingredients matter. Next skillfully prepare and present the food in fresh and tasty ways. And then serve beautiful, delicious foods to your students with pride and a smile! But don’t keep it to yourself, proclaim your food-focused efforts to your community! Soon you will have a steady stream of happy customers who will make so many frustrations a thing of the past!

Focus on FOOD and Success will Follow!

Having a laser focus on everything to do with FOOD is guaranteed to set your program on the path to SUCCESS!

A Look at The Four Pillars of SUCCESS Can Help You Chart the Course

Pillar One: Serve More WHOLE FOODS if your SUCCESS goals are to:

  • Improve the beauty and nutrition of your meals
  • Increase participation
  • Build pride
  • Maximize commodity benefits

Pillar Two: Do More SCRATCH COOKING if your SUCCESS goals are to:

  • Serve fresh, tasty, healthier meals
  • Increase participation
  • Build staff confidence
  • Build staff competence

Pillar Three: Start a FARM TO SCHOOL program if your SUCCESS goals are to:

  • Learn how to buy local foods
  • Support your local farmers
  • Serve the freshest, highest quality foods
  • Increase program participation
  • Increase staff’s pride in their work

Pillar Four: Do some simple FOOD related MARKETING if your SUCCESS goals are to:  

  • to garner confidence and respect from stakeholders
  • to positively promote your program and district
  • to increase program participation

Do all of the above to ensure SUCCESS in Schools Food Service!

If any to this has resonated with you, I’d love to talk to you at your convenience and answer your questions!

Book a time to chat!

The “LIVE-SETTING” Approach™ to Culinary Skills Training

The “LIVE-SETTING” Approach™ to Culinary Skills Training

What is The “LIVE-SETTING” Approach

These trainings are scheduled during the regular live production day, and are completely customized to work with your equipment, in your environment, to meet your team’s most urgent training needs, all during live production. 

Keep earning valuable reimbursements while training your team during their normal work hours. No staff overtime or extra time required!

Results you can expect:

  • The kitchen team will learn to prepare an entire custom, scratch cooked, whole foods based, child nutrition compliant menu, that they will be equipped to reproduce the on their own in the future.
  • The menu can be designed to incorporate local foods to add the Farm to School element giving you something positive to promote in your learning community.
  • Learn to process, prepare and season whole foods so they look and taste great to kids.
  • Learn new ideas to utilize more whole, fresh foods in your menus that your kids will actually eat! 
  • How to process fruits and vegetables with a knife and other pieces of equipment for maximum efficiency.
  • Demystify sodium’s critical role in cooking and how to use it wisely in a school food environment to meet regs and make whole foods taste great!
  • Learn to maximize sodium’s benefit by incorporating other flavor builders such as acid, sweet, bitter and umami.

When is the best time to schedule:

“LIVE-SETTING” event are designed so you can train your team on any regular work day while school is in session. No need to wait for half or off-days.

Why choose “Live-Setting”: 

  • You want the freedom to schedule trainings anytime you want! No need to wait for half or off-days to train your people.
  • You want your team to learn foundational cooking skills that they will use everyday.
  • You want the satisfaction of seeing your team produce a beautiful, scratch cooked menu from start to finish then watch it served to real students. 
  • You want to continue collecting your valuable meal reimbursements while training. 
  • You don’t want to pay out any additional labor dollars to pay for extra time after regular work hours. Live-Setting trainings occur during the employees regular work day.
  • Because everything is customized to your operation to address your greatest training challenges.


Some advanced pre-planning plus the duration of an entire workday on the day of the “Live-Setting” event.


Your school kitchen of choice. These training are intended to be inserted into an established kitchen team’s regular work environment. 

More Details:

Here are some specific examples of this style of class:

Overview of the “Live-Setting” Approach 

Recap of an actual “Live-Setting” training

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!