ARDMORE, Okla. – Students got to tell their lunch ladies how they really feel about the school lunch menu last week, as local cafeteria staff attended a two-day workshop intended to make school lunches healthier and yummier. The 48-hour cram session ended with students from HFV Wilson Community Center rating the taste and appearance of the meals.
The workshop centered on a new set of guidelines for school meals set by the USDA, but organizers took in to account local culture, food preferences and ingredient availability. The Turning Point Coalition of Carter County and Mercy Hospital Ardmore hosted the event.
“We’re always looking for ways to help our communities adopt healthier lifestyles, habits and tastes,” said Charles Spencer, Mercy Hospital Ardmore executive chef. “This is one way to let the kiddos see for themselves that healthy foods can also be yummy. We’ve been really impressed with the passion of the cafeteria staff; they’re taking what they’ve learned and they’re running with it.”
Participants first reviewed the new USDA guidelines for school meals, then discussed creative menu planning, time management, creative ideas for cafeteria decor and food safety. The second day, attendees rolled up their sleeves and put their new knowledge and skills to work, preparing new recipes like Porcupine Sliders, Crayola Cole Slaw and for dessert, healthy Apple Crisps.
Then, the judges arrived. One hundred and sixty students piled into the lunch room to put the attendees’ skills to the test. Each student taste-tested a dish and ranked it by taste and presentation. Kiddos were given a marble each and asked to vote by placing it in the one of three: a “smiley face” cup for a “delicious” rating, a “frowny face” cup for a “no thanks” rating, or a “neutral face” cup for an “okay” rating. Eighty seven (more than half) of the kids voted by filling the happy face cup.
“It was great getting to hear what the kids thought of the recipes we were trying,” said Spencer. “Any parent out there knows what picky eaters children can be. We’re happy to say their marks were high; they liked the flavors and colors of the new dishes. And, we liked fueling their growing bodies with healthy foods.”
At the end of the workshop, participants reported next steps for their individual cafeterias and the majority of participating schools reported they would begin taste testing new recipes and revising their menus with the successful items. In addition, several schools intend to get parents and teachers involved in the taste tests and begin educating their students about nutritious foods.
“This was the first time many of our staff got to go to this type of training and I noticed immediately the positive impact that this course had on our team,” said Jennifer Roach, Ardmore City Schools child nutrition director. “I saw a difference in their outlook on the USDA’s changes to regulations – they were excited about them! We all left with a better understanding of the new nutritional guidelines and are excited to support kids in eating healthy.”
School cafeteria staff and administrators from Ardmore, Dickson, Madill, Plainview, Springer, Greenville, Sulphur, Davis, Lone Grove, Ringling, Healdton, Zanies, Fox and Wynnewood attended the program, which has been nominated for a Community Champion award by the Oklahoma Turning Point Coalition.
For questions about the Shape Your Menu! School Cafeteria Excellence Institute, please call Kristi Combes at 580-223-7075 x314.
Funding and support was provided by local foundations and food was provided by Mercy Hospital Ardmore.