Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Lunch ladies" (and Men) Go To Boot Camp. No Chicken Nuggets Allowed.

August 26, 2010|Mary MacVean
SANTA MARIA, CALIF. — The people making lunch in this big commercial kitchen are pros; some of them serve thousands of diners a day. But they're not all comfortable using a knife to peel a butternut squash or chop fresh parsley.

They work in school cafeterias, "lunch ladies" who are not all women and who would like to be seen more as lunch teachers contributing to the overall education of the children who eat their food.

They have been trained in food safety but not always in cooking. Too often, they say, their job has been to heat frozen chicken nuggets or packaged burritos, or to distribute canned fruit, sometimes to the children of people growing and picking fresh produce.

So two dozen cafeteria employees from Santa Barbara County schools are spending a week this summer in a culinary boot camp, learning to cook pork roasts and chicken, vegetables and casseroles they can serve in their schools -- food that tastes good, comes in under budget and meets federal requirements.

The boot camp "drill sergeants" -- Cook for America founders Andrea Martin and Kate Adamick -- also discuss politics and child psychology, nutrition and marketing. They teach time management, culinary math, knife skills, the history of school food and menu planning. Get rid of flavored milk and stop serving cinnamon rolls for breakfast, they say.

"I'm totally impressed," says Cathy Kelly, one of the people taking part in the boot camp in a central kitchen of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.

Kelly, who works in the Lompoc Unified School District, and her colleague Debbie Frank say their secondary schools are cooking food from scratch but the elementary schools need more kitchen equipment. Much of the food comes frozen and is reheated, including pizzas and burritos, Kelly says.

"It's pretty bad when we don't want to eat it," Kelly says. "When our hamburgers come, I can't stand the smell. I would like to serve something I'm proud of."

The boot camp is one of several efforts around the country to get more produce and whole grains and more freshly cooked food onto school lunch trays.

Read the complete story in the Los Angeles Times.

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