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Food and nutrition workers go to culinary 'boot camp'

Chefs work with Washington County Public Schools employees to offer healthier choices in school lunches

June 13, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Cherrie Williams, right, reaches for a curry chicken salad wrap created by the WCPS food distribution workers who just finished a culinary "boot camp" with local chefs. The camp was to introduce new healthier ideas to the lunchroom in the schools.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Using their fingers or plastic forks, dozens of people invited to South Hagerstown High School on Wednesday tasted a variety of potential new menu items as the county school system moves toward offering students healthier foods that use fresher ingredients.

Most of the items were new, such as a curried chicken wrap and Asian vegetable noodle lettuce wraps, and others were an attempt at a healthier version of existing dishes offered at schools, said Jeff Proulx, supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services for Washington County Public Schools.

The tasting was the culmination of a six-day culinary “boot camp” in which three local chefs worked with food and nutrition workers from seven county public schools to improve their culinary skills and prepare new dishes that could make their way onto school menus.

Traditionally, many school meals are precooked, and cafeteria workers reheat the meals for students, Proulx said.

With a national push toward healthier school meals, some school workers got lessons in cooking from scratch, including learning knife skills, organizers said.

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The meals still need some tweaking, including making sure the final meals meet nutrition standards, Proulx said.

For example, one of the items offered Wednesday had Alfredo sauce, but a prepackaged sauce was used so it might not meet nutrition guidelines, Proulx said. Alfredo sauce, which usually calls for heavy cream, can be made with nonfat dry milk, he said.

A breaded pollock was another dish that could need tweaking, or the school system might stick with its current offering, Proulx said.

The breaded fish served Wednesday had a pico de gallo topping, which caused the breaded coating to become soggy.

Students would probably prefer the crunch of the current breaded pollock, said Linda Hutto, one of the assistant supervisors for food and nutrition services.

There were no current public school students at the tasting, but 2011 North Hagerstown High School graduate Haven Williams was at the tasting with her mother, who works for food services.

A vegetarian, Williams said she had no problem finding vegetarian options among the dishes available at the tasting. She said she liked the dishes, including a stuffed portobello mushroom, and a mix of sweet potatoes and acorn squash that was seasoned with fresh nutmeg.

Some school system employees noted how tasty and healthy many of the dishes were, including several fruit cups and vegetable dishes such as roasted asparagus, broccoli salad and a vegetarian calzone.

Other dishes included a meat and vegetable calzone, penne pasta with grilled chicken and roasted vegetables, and flank steak with roasted vegetables. A few of the dishes also included tofu.

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