Without Training, School Chefs Face Challenges
Chefs who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and brought their skills to America’s schools say training would have helped them keep their efforts realistic when attempting to bring more fresh foods to school lunches, according to a recent study conducted by Y-Pulse LLC.
Almost all chefs said they could have benefitted from training in the nutritional requirements that schools must work with, and more than 80 percent said training on the limitations and financial restrictions schools face in serving fresh foods would have helped them to understand the big picture and focus their efforts better.
“I think what we see is that when chefs get involved with schools, they arrive with a set of business skills and knowledge that is more tailored for private enterprise, and so they get frustrated in dealing with the more bureaucratic conventions of schools,” says Sharon Olson, co-founder of Y-Pulse. “So, when they have the advantage of an orientation period, or specialized training on the nuances faced by schools in delivering meals, they understand what’s possible, and what’s not, when it comes to adding fresh foods to those menus.”
In introducing more fresh foods the chefs also said they saw training opportunities for school foodservice employees. They said employees would feel more comfortable preparing fresh foods if they had more training in fresh food preparation techniques and in using available equipment that would make fresh food menu items easier to prepare. Deep knowledge of cuisines and broad knowledge of fresh food types were also cited as fertile territory for employee training.
“Chefs can bring new dimensions to school foodservice operations because they see with fresh eyes,” Olson says. “They also bring with them some very deep insight in preparing menu items using fresh ingredients. When they share that insight with foodservice personnel, everyone benefits.”
The Y-Pulse study also revealed successful approaches chefs have used to champion fresh foods in schools. Those included:
- Explaining foods and giving out samples as kids go through the lunch line.
- Putting out alternatives to high-fat, processed foods, such as setting up salad bars and preparation stations for items such as sautéed food and Asian cuisine.
- Promoting locally-grown root vegetables and herbs in menu items such as soups.
- Holding after-school cooking classes for kids.
- Bringing unusual fresh fruits such as kiwis to the classroom and showing the kids how to peel, prep, and enjoy them.
- Setting up and running a farm-to-school program.