31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Chef Robert is a #RealSchoolHero

The School Nutrition Foundation recently announced its 2015 School Nutrition Hero AwardsChef Robert Rusan from Richmond-Maplewood Heights School District in Maplewood, Missouri, is one of the honorees. Robert has been one of my heroes since I started School Meals That Rock in 2011. Very early in the life of our Facebook page, Chef Robert started sending in photos – of his immaculate kitchen, school garden produce and mouth-watering, house-made meals.

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

There are many reasons to honor Chef Robert Rusan. The two that really stand out to me are his ability to connect young people with their food – and his commitment to the freshest ingredients possible. This collage from Food Revolution Day 2014 illustrates both. Serving Asparagus Frittata in a high school would be awesome all by itself, but Robert went way beyond that: “Today MRH Teen Cuisine prepared fresh asparagus frittata. The asparagus are from the school garden at ECC and the eggs are from our own MRH chickens. I would like to give a special shout out to our Seed to Table Coordinator/teacher Chef Almut Marino who organized the day!

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Team Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Teen Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

It is very difficult to pick out one or two photos which really show the commitment of Chef Robert and his district to fresh food and student involvement. This collage and Robert’s own caption do a pretty good job: “Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students.” To get the full flavor of why Chef Robert Rusan is a 2015 SNF School Nutrition Hero, I recommend going to his Facebook page and scrolling through the photos. I guarantee that you will be impressed!!

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students

 

3 Secrets for Getting Kids to Make Smart Food Choices

[Thanks to Kern Halls of Ingenious Culinary Concepts for originally publishing this on his new blog.]

As school nutrition professionals, we are required to serve certain food items – and we want our customers to enjoy nutrient-rich, “good-for-them” meals and snacks.  While there is never any guarantee that every child is going to like every food (do you?!), there are some fundamental, “secret” strategies for helping children make smarter food choices at school. Here are three of my favorites:

1.    Presentation, presentation, presentation.

We all eat with our eyes – and our nose and ears – long before we ever put the food in our mouths. School-aged customers are looking for colorful, eye-appealing choices that smell wonderful – and maybe even “sizzle” in the skillet. A recent study with pre-teen children indicated that the young people preferred greater food diversity than adults. On average, they preferred seven different items on their plates and six different colors. This study is one of many from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab that indicate the importance of presentation to children, including on school lunch lines.

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Make sure that it looks, smells and sounds incredibly delicious!

From Kalispell, Montana, these rainbow salads would appeal to any student!!

From Kalispell, Montana, these rainbow salads would appeal to any student!!

2.    Taste, taste, taste.

This should go without saying: Taste reigns supreme in the food world. While you can get kids to take a bite or two of almost anything, you will not get them to repeat the experience or truly enjoy the food unless it tastes good. How do you get food to go from OK to WOW in terms of taste buds? The “secret” is culinary skills – planning, storing, preparing, seasoning and cooking to maximize flavor and texture. Culinary boot camps, guest chefs and chefs on staff have become popular for good reasons. They all help school meals move beyond their reputation for processed blandness to more complex, sophisticated and spicy foods that appeal to today’s consumers.

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Make sure your food tastes so wonderful that they want to come back for more tomorrow.

Denver (CO) Public Schools served Albondigas with zucchini, bell peppers, onions, potatoes, cilantro and carrots, as well as homemade turkey meatballs. Students at Schmitt Elementary raved about them on the playground and at other schools students asked for seconds!

Denver (CO) Public Schools served Albondigas with zucchini, bell peppers, onions, potatoes, cilantro and carrots, as well as homemade turkey meatballs. Students at Schmitt Elementary raved about them on the playground and at other schools students asked for seconds!

3.    Service with a smile.

Anyone who has every worked in any kind of foodservice with any age customers knows the value of a smile. In school cafeterias, the smiles of the school nutrition professionals directly translate into improved academic performance. That’s because S.M.I.L.E. stands for School Meals Improve Learning Environments. When children are well nourished, they are ready to succeed – better able to focus, concentrate and learn in the classroom. Good customer service is one of most effective ways to insure that children will enjoy whatever is served at school breakfast, lunch and snack – whether they know that it is good for them or not!!

Want children to eat “what’s good for them”? Remember to S.M.I.L.E. and invite your customer to enjoy the appealing, delicious food you have prepared. 

In Lake Stevens, Washington, their "Build a Rainbow" Salad Bar is served with many smiles.

In Lake Stevens, Washington, their “Build a Rainbow” Salad Bar is served with many smiles.