Cooks are always on the move in the kitchen. There's the chopping, the mixing, the pouring and the menu planning.
"I am always in my menu-- 'Oh shoot! I didn't put my legumes for the week. Where am I going to fit them in?' It's been a big challenge," said Liz Scharf, a food service director.
The pressure is found in the school cafeteria. Food service directors are faced with complying with new nutritional guidelines from the government, all aimed at making the meals healthier.
"If farm to school is going to be successful, it has to intersect the school meal guidelines. It can't be outside that," said Abbie Nelson with Vermont Food Education Every Day or FEED.
For the past decade, Nelson and her partners have been trying to change what's served in the school cafeteria. That effort is about to go national; a new cookbook is in the works. They are testing a series of recipes. Recipes like Cheesy Kale Bake, Barley with Mashed Squash, Blueberry Bran Muffins and Chicken Pot Pie.
"These recipes were collected from schools who are already serving these meals, so they have been kid tested and school food director tested," Nelson explained.
Clearing the kid test is key. These cooks understand the meals need to go in the belly, not the compost pile. Change is not easy.
"The older kids, a lot of them have been balking at it, a lot of them have been complaining about it. But with the younger kids, especially in 10 years, we are going to see a big difference because you are going to be starting with these kindergarteners where they are not going to know any different. They are not going to know about Chicken McNuggets per se, they are going to know about sweet potato fries as opposed to regular french fries. And I am already seeing it in my own school," Scharf said.
Schools also must make the meals affordable both to the school and the parents. But they believe they are making progress one recipe at a time.
"Try it, try it again and try it again," Nelson said. "That's how we change our behaviors and our pallets and choices."
Choices that someday will be featured in a school cafeteria cookbook around the country.
The New England Culinary Institute and the magazine Eating Well are also helping with the testing. FEED hopes to release the cookbook this fall.
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