Bringing Scratch Cooking Back to the Lunch Room

Bringing Scratch Cooking Back To The Lunch Room

Mon 08 Aug 2011

Story by Bettina Elias Siegel

Kate Adamick, principal of Food Systems Solutions LLC, is a well-known school food consultant committed to bringing back scratch cooking to America’s schools. Through her Cook for America® culinary boot camps, she works around the country to provide school food personnel with culinary training, turning them from re-heaters of processed food into what she calls passionate “Lunch Teachers.” Here The Lunch Tray (TLT) blogger Bettina Elias Siegel interviews one of our Food Revolution heroes.

TLT: It’s a common belief that bringing back scratch cooking in schools costs more than the reheating of processed food, is this a misperception?

Kate: From my perspective as a school food consultant spending a significant amount of time each year doing onsite assessments in public schools around the country, the common belief that scratch-cooking costs more than reheating processed food is ill-founded. This is particularly true in school districts with high rates of students who are eligible for free and reduced meals, in which there is a tremendous opportunity to dramatically increase revenue through breakfast in the classroom programs and to cut costs by no longer paying manufacturers to turn free raw commodity meat products in costly processed items. Even in wealthier school districts, existing costs can usually be significantly cut by such practices as eliminating portioning items into individual containers prior to service (which reduces labor hours and cuts costs for packaging) and minimizing the number of choices offered daily (which reduces labor hours through economies of scale). When a school district’s food service operations are examined holistically, the potential for increased revenue and cost reduction can reach millions of dollars each year.

TLT: Tell us about the school food “boot camps” that you run?

Kate: The 5-day Cook for America® Culinary Boot Camps cover all basic competencies necessary to prepare food service directors, kitchen managers, lead cooks, and support staff to run professional, cooked-from-scratch school lunch operations. A critical step towards professionalizing the school food work environment and workforce, the Cook for America® Culinary Boot Camps build skills, confidence, awareness, and motivation among its participants. As a direct result of their participation in the Cook for America® Culinary Boot Camps, school food service personnel are transformed into school Lunch Teachers™ who work as culinary ambassadors, embracing their crucial role in nurturing America’s school children. At Cook for America®, we believe that school food is the solution, not the problem!

TLT: How do the boot camp skills you teach translate in schools in which there is little equipment besides a freezer and an oven for reheating?

Kate: Most school district food service departments don’t need a bigger labor force to return to scratch-cooking, they need a better trained labor force. The equipment needs, however, vary from school to school. An oven, for example, can be used to cook raw chicken just as easily as it can be used to cook chicken nuggets, but the cooler space can frequently be problematic. In some districts, the best solution is to utilize one or more of its larger kitchen facilities as central kitchen to produce the entrées for the entire district. Sometimes this also requires staggered shifts of food service workers so that the kitchens can be operational from early morning through late evening. In short, there’s no single solution that will work for all districts, and coming up with the right solution for each situation usually requires thinking

TLT: What would you do in a district like my own, in which 240,000 meals are prepared a day in a $52 million central kitchen for reheating at local schools using a food service management company, with about 40% of the food prepared through the central kitchen — the rest is still processed elsewhere — and even much of the “scratch” cooking at the kitchen uses mixes and processed components. How would you get more scratch cooked food onto kids’ trays in my own district?

Kate: I no longer work in school districts that contract their meal service out to food service providers. Children don’t stop learning just because it is meal time. In my opinion, introducing a for-profit service provider into a public education environment amounts to an abdication of responsibility that does little more than put the corporation’s well-being over the welfare of children. Were your district to be interested in going self-op, I would be delighted to discuss how to better utilize a $52 million central kitchen in a way that would put healthier food into your children’s bodies and less profits into food service management companies’ pockets.

You can read more about Kate and the work she’s doing here.

Read the full article here.

Reposted with permission from The Lunch Tray.

About the author: Bettina Elias Siegel is the founder of The Lunch Tray blog and previous Food Revolution Blogs of the Month winner.


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