Cooks weigh in on healthy foods, new guidelines
Morgan County Schools and West Virginia schools have been serving healthy foods for many years, said Linda Michael, Warm Springs Intermediate School head cook.
A lot of changes took place while she was still a cook at Widmyer Elementary, Michael said. Michael has been at the intermediate school for seven or eight years now. She has been a school cook for more than 30 years and was also a cook at Berkeley Springs High School.
School meals haven’t changed that much in the past few years, she said. More vegetables have been added recently and portions have changed.
Schools have been doing salads, fresh vegetables, serving light salad dressings and using lower fat mayonnaise with olive oil for homemade dressings and using whole wheat breads and pastas, Michael said. Everything is baked instead of fried.
They use lite Italian and French dressing, lite maple syrup, lite mayonnaise packets for kids’ sandwiches and lower fat mayonnaise with olive oil for salad dressings.
“Everything now is light,” Michael noted.
Cereals have reduced sugar and/or multi-grain versions. They also carry low-fat yogurt, which kids enjoy.
Portions have been cut, but meals offered a variety of food. That day kids had oven-roasted chicken, rice, steamed California vegetables, a tossed salad, an apple and milk for lunch.
“How can you be hungry if you take it all and eat it all,” she wondered.
A lot of students won’t take the squash or minestrone soup so it goes to waste. As long as they have three items on the tray, they’re allowed to leave the serving line. One item has to be milk, Michael said.
Intermediate school students loved pizza, chicken strips, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, tacos, chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes and gravy. Around half of their kids try the baked sweet potatoes and sweet potato fries and puffs.
Michael also had students with special dietary needs, such as gluten-free, lactose-free or pureed diets, for which she prepared food.
Michael said there was a great deal of record-keeping involved. In one day of cooking, they have to list everything used for breakfast and lunch, note how much is fixed, used and leftover from each meal. There are milk production records, portion sheets and temperature charts for each food for when it’s cooked and also when it’s served.
Michael also has to deduct the food used each day from her records. There are different food orders to fill out for each supplier of produce, bread, milk and other food items.
Kids liked country fried steak, spaghetti, raw veggie dunkers, tacos and Salisbury steaks, said middle school head cook Debbie Wilson. They also enjoyed chicken and biscuits, which had whole grain biscuits with 30% less calories.
The middle school served tossed salads, baked cookies and whole wheat dinner rolls from scratch and also made some homemade pasta salads and soups, she said.
Wilson and staff expressed their difficulties with some of the newer vegetable choices that were on the menu. Kids weren’t eating the sweet potato fries, cooked spinach, steamed squash and carrot raisin salad. Their students also weren’t big soup eaters.
They tell kids on the serving line that they have to take milk so the meal is considered reimbursable, Wilson said.
There’s a lot of paperwork involved with the new foods and guidelines, she said. Wilson wanted to request more training to make sure they were doing it correctly.
Recipes, more changes
The government has recipes they have to use, Michael said. If cooks add something to it, it’s categorized separately as a local recipe. New recipes were coming up, such as chic’ penne and orange glazed carrots, Michael said.
More changes in the school nutrition guidelines were coming next year. Next year bread portions will be cut again, she noted.
The bottom line
Kids’ tastes are different at different ages, Michael noted. Some kids are picky eaters. Some take all the food that’s offered and eat it all while others have only certain foods they like, she said.