On Tuesday, August 5 a gathering of over 30 cafeteria staff members from Butte, Colusa, and Glenn counties spent the morning together preparing healthy recipes made from scratch using unprocessed whole foods as part of a day dedicated for Nutrition Services staff to share ideas and recipes for healthier school meals in the new school year.
The 30 attendees were school nutrition service staff from Colusa Unified School District, Orland Unified School District, Paradise Unified School District and Williams Unified School District. Each school district prepared and demonstrated a specially chosen recipe for the group.
Event coordinator Leasa Hill, Director of Student Nutrition at Colusa Unified School District, placed special emphasis on scratch cooking and flavor. Topics she mentioned with her cooking were how to flavor foods with spices not salt or sugar, extracting the natural flavors and textures that foods lose in the process of preserving prepackaged over processed foods, and how to creatively stretch a budget by strategically shopping commodity foods.
Hill demonstrated three dishes – carnitas, Chile Colorado and BBQ style pulled pork sandwiches served with coleslaw – that were all made with whole fresh raw foods and spices.
Sheila McQuaid, Farm to Fork Coordinator from CSU Chico’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP), and Regional Lead for the California Farm to School Network, called the event a huge success. “In order to facilitate transitioning back to cooking with whole foods in schools, nutrition service staff need the opportunity for training in culinary skills and also to share best practices. This event was a fun and delicious staff development experience. It’s also important that we honor and appreciate the folks who are dedicated to feeding our children.”
After the cooking demonstrations, everyone ate lunch together. During the event, local products from local farmers and food producers were available for tasting and the Harvest of the Month tasting schedule for school was handed out. The Harvest of the Month program provides tasting kits to area classrooms.The kits include tastings of a local produce or nut item and information about a local growers who produced it and where families can purchase local foods. The workshop was hosted with sponsorship from Colusa Unified School District in collaboration with CSU Chico’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP) and the California Farm to School Network.
Gina Sims, Market Manager for the soon-to- be launched North Valley Food Hub (NVFH), attended the workshop and was “Inspired to know so many districts are passionate about adding more scratch cooking to school meals. They so cleverly stretch their limited food dollars to combine inexpensive commodity food items with local produce and to reflect the seasonal flavors.” The NVFH aims make the purchasing of local foods easier for schools, restaurants, and local food businesses and hopes to be in business later this year.
Many of the school teams will be trying new recipes with students as schools start up this fall across the North State. The movement to get back to more scratch cooking is an integral part of Farm to School efforts to incorporate fresh, local whole foods in the cafeteria. “It takes a team effort, the kind of team that grows together by always improving the things we get right and recognizing and fixing the rest” says Hill, who made a point to say she would not be able to operate the way she does without the support and investment of her kitchen staff, administration and school district, who authorized the funding to get her kitchens equipped to cook from scratch.
For more information about Farm to School in the state, please visit http://www.cafarmtoschool.org/■