Hot Supper Meals at LA Unified

This is no April Fool’s joke. I am rebooting the School Meals That Rock blog – starting with my spring visits to school districts around the country. I may throw in a few other school food-related topics as 2017 moves along. If you have an idea you’d like me to cover, just post a reply below and I promise to respond as soon as possible.

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1-Outdoor EatingSupper programs are one of the newest USDA Child Nutrition programs – and they sometimes do not get the same level of coverage as the more familiar breakfast and lunch programs. They are, however, critically important to the at-risk children that receive them. If they did not have a supper meal at school, this students might very well eat snack foods from a corner store, a fast food dinner, or – in the worst-case scenario – no supper at all.

2-Fabi CartOn March 16, I had the privilege of seeing hundreds of hungry children enjoy the fuel they needed for afterschool homework and other enrichment activities. Los Angeles Unified School District Food Services Division (LAUSD) has rolled out a hot supper service in over 100 schools with more in the works, including Belvedere Elementary. Located in East Los Angeles, Belvedere has wide airy hallways decorated with murals and a staff dedicated to providing students what they need to become: Thinkers. Leaders. Changemakers. Every one that I met – the assistant principal, the school foodservice staff, the afterschool teachers, parents and children – was enthusiastic about the hot supper meals. Since beginning the hot options, supper participation has more than doubled and waste has decreased markedly.

LAUSD uses a variety of packaged hot items, along with milk, fresh fruit and veggies, which are easily delivered by carts at several sites in the hallways and outside eating area. All the hot and cold supper items meet LAUSD’s strict nutrition guidelines and are popular with their customers. It was such a pleasure to see LAUSD’s hot supper program in operation at Belvedere Elementary. I was impressed by the efficiency of the school nutrition staff in serving hundreds of hungry children – giving them plenty of time to enjoy their meals while chatting with friends and family members. This program is working because of the commitment by the entire school community to insuring that at-risk students received the nourishment they needed for the afternoon and evening. With LAUSD’s dedication to the highest quality food options, Belvedere’s food services team was clearly feeding bodies and fueling minds with smiles on their faces.

3-Dayle RocendoMy sincerest thanks to Ivy Marx, LAUSD Senior Nutrition Specialist, and Rocendo Gonzalez, Belvedere Cafeteria Manager, for hosting my visit to Belvedere – and for nourishing children well at school. Next time I visit LAUSD, I would love to meet Joseph Vaughn, the new Director of Food Services, so that I could thank him personally for this innovative and successful hot supper program.

Georgia on My Mind: #GoldenRadish, #LeafItToSpinach, #HealthiestSchools, and #HarvestBright

I’ve been waiting for the right inspiration to kickstart my blog again. I got it on Monday at the 2016 #GoldenRadish ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol. I was beyond honored to speak briefly about the 53 districts, representing over 39 million school meals featuring both regional and local Georgia Grown products, 8246 farm to school taste tests, 575 school gardens and so much more. The number of #GoldenRadish awards have expanded dramatically since the original 30 in 2014. The #GoldenRadish committee keeps adding new categories – Outstanding District award in 2015 and a planned 2017 Platinum award – challenging districts to grow better and better farm to school programs.leafittospinach

At Statham Elementary School, a site in the Gold Level #GoldenRadish Barrow County School Nutrition District, Diana Cole and her special needs students have explored #LeafItToSpinach as part of their October #FarmToSchool Month lessons. As I entered the classroom Tuesday, they were reading Sylvia’s Spinach before tasting Spinach Lasagna, enjoying the Spinach Brownies they had made themselves, and going out to check on their newly planted spinach seeds in the school garden. 2016-10-25-sylvias-spinachAfter the garden we all enjoyed Georgia Grown Spinach Salad (and carrots too) for school lunch. While award ceremonies feature state officials and fancy plaques, the real work of changing how Georgia’s children eat is moving forward with #onesmallstep at a time in classrooms like Diana’s Cole’s every school day.2016-10-25-statham-lunch

I’ve been following Bibb County Schools – aka Eat Right, Be Bright – for years. Director Cleta Long does an outstanding job and folks know it: SIXTEEN Bibb County Schools were recognized this year among America’s #HealthiestSchools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Cleta and her staff take their Gold Level #GoldenRadish status seriously with boxes and boxes of local produce served all year round in deliciously appealing ways.apple-collageBibb County’s healthy ways extend beyond the cafeteria to Georgia Grown parades for #FeedMySchool week in hallways, nutrition education in classrooms, science-lessons in school gardens, and real field trips to local farms. In addition to 16 #HealthiestSchools awards, Bibb County was recognized with two Georgia School Nutrition Association #BestPractice awards and ten Let’s Move Active Schools.

#HarvestBright is the new tagline for Burke County Public Schools Farm to School Program, the Outstanding District honored at Georgia Organics 2016 #GoldenRadish ceremony. Director Donna Martin, President-Elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was recently described as the “Ultimate Lunch Lady.” Donna actively promotes the benefits of #FarmToSchool and #SchoolMealsThatRock from the fields of Burke County to the White House Garden. donnaDonna travels the world to promote Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and the Academy, but she is still happiest eating lunch with Burke County Public School students, out standing in collard fields with organic farmer Sam Adderson, or planning new ways to get even more local products, like grits, onto school lunch trays and farmers market shopping bags.

group-photoBarrow, Bibb and Burke counties were just three of the award-winning districts celebrated on the steps of Georgia Capitol on October 24, 2016. There are 50 more districts with dedicated directors from the Atlantic coast to the mountains of north Georgia. How has Georgia Organics been able to successfully grow the #GoldenRadish Awards for all these Georgia districts doing such extraordinary work in farm to school? It’s really pretty simple: Georgia Organics coordinates the #GoldenRadish Awards with the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Agriculture, and Georgia Department of Public Health, a powerful team to make the dream of local food for local kids work. It’s really no wonder that, according to USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census, 62 percent of Georgia districts participate in farm to school programs – well above the 42 percent of districts nationwide. For more about all the current award winners and next year’s applications, please visit the Georgia Organics website at https://georgiaorganics.org/for-schools/goldenradish and blog at https://georgiaorganics.org/2016/10/53-georgia-school-districts-honored-farm-school-success/

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Taste Tests Are Terrific

Two FB photos inspired today’s post – both from districts that I admire. The first is from Lessons from the Lunch Lady, aka Wendy Garman who had the pleasure of meeting at SNAPa meeting last summer. Wendy dedicates her page “to all the little minds I have been blessed to refuel and to all the child nutrition employees who make feeding children a priority” – and often shares the darnedest thins that her small customers say.

Today’s Wendy’s photo showcased a Taste Test of simple roasted kale chips. I was impressed that Wendy was even doing a Taste Test during the holiday rush – and even more impressed with the results she reported: “‘I wish you brought more kale! This stuff is great,’ said a third grader sampling roasted kale chips today. I had very low expectations for this sampling as dark green veggies are not usually listed among kids’ favorites. It was exciting to see how willing everyone was to give it a try and even more amazed to learn that nearly 90 percent of the class enjoyed it.” Plus, the kale was a lovely holiday green!

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Roasted Kale Chip Taste Test, Lessons from The Lunch Lady

Lesson learned from this Taste Test (and nearly every other one ever done) – children’s reactions to food are often very different that we expect. In fact, the fewer expectations that the adults have, the more likely children are to experience new foods for themselves. Often their reaction is more positive than we expect.

My second inspiration was a series of photos from EATS (Eat Awesome Things at School) Park City from a Taste Test of butternut squash. I was first impressed by the beautifully appealing display of the samples. There are some benefits of serving samples in a resort town like Park City, Utah – the “roasted Butternut Squash was perfectly cooked by the esteemed The Farm Restaurant at Canyons Resort.”

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

Butternut Squash Taste Test, EATS Park City, Utah

EATS Park City is doing a really terrific job of engaging community support for #RealSchoolFood. I had the pleasure of meeting with EATS Park City last summer and am impressed with how positively they are working with the school nutrition program and other local businesses. The organically grown squash came from Parker Produce, a 140 year old farm in northern Utah – and the Taste Tests are funded by The Park City Community Foundation and the Park City Sunrise Rotary Club

It is important to remember that while the town has many wealthy visitors a significant number of students have not been exposed to fine dining in local restaurants – or to foods like butternut squash. One elementary school student was concern that the squash contained nuts!

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Middle School Students Taste Roasted Butternut Squash

Another lesson learned: Children may perceive new foods in ways that we cannot even imagine, especially if the food item is an everyday food for us. While Taste Tests may seem easy enough – just put out samples and have kids eat them, it can also be helpful to take a more structured approach. Fortunately, there are two great resources – both free for downloading – to help you make the most of tasting #RealSchoolFood:

In both these guides you will find tips and forms to make Taste Tests more fun, more successful and more effective in expanding student food horizons. Here are some examples of the forms from the Vermont FEED Guide.

Sample pages from Vermont Feed's Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

Sample pages from Vermont Feed’s Guide To Taste Testing Local Foods In Schools

31 days of #RealSchoolFood: Celebrating the Season

Yesterday’s focus on pizza made us think of Elf on the Shelf at school. What’s the connection you ask? It’s the dedicated and creative folks at Billerica (MA) Public Schools Nutrition Services, headed up by April M. Laskey, SNS, Director of School Nutrition and Dina Wiroll, Nutrition Services Site Coordinator. Yesterday Jimmy the Kitchen Elf, from the Kennedy Elementary School enjoyed pizza, milk, yummy salad and an apple with his reindeer friend. What a fun way to connect school meals to seasonal fun that students may also be doing at home.

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Jimmy the Kitchen Elm enjoys a complete school lunch at Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves were showing up all over Billerica Nutrition Services this week. On Thursday, as part of Massachusetts Harvest of the Month and BPS Taste it Thursday even the Elf on the Shelf got his yummy roasted carrot ‘fries.’

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Elves love Harvest of the Mouth Roasted Carrot Fries in Billerica, Massachusetts

Some of Billerica’s everyday ingredients look positively festive. This lovely Kale Garbanzo Bean Salad is simply dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This would look fabulous on a holiday cafeteria line.

Kale Chickpea Salad

Kale Chickpea Salad

Last December, I had the great pleasure of visiting April and Dina – and eating lunch at Frederick J. Dutile Elementary School. I know it was a special occasion – and, I also know that they regularly make colorful appealing vegetable trays like this for their customers (who really dug into this one!).

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Vegetable Snowman, Dutile Elementary, Billerica. Massachusetts

Even the logo for Billerica Schools Nutrition Services is bright and festive! Be sure and follow this dedicate team of school nutrition professionals on Facebook. Happy holidays!

Billerica logo2

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (6 of 6)

This is our sixth post about the key elements of taking school food photos that ROCK. We’ve covered Background, Quality, People, Lighting and Contrast. Our goal has been – one step at a time – to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take some great PHOTOS of your employees, your customers and your food.

STEP #6. FOCUS. The final element is, in fact, the most important. You can have a beautiful background, high quality food, adorable children, proper lighting and gorgeous contrasting colors – but if your photo is not in focus, viewers will not get your message. The most important question is: Do you know how to FOCUS your Smartphone (or camera)? If you don’t, learn right now. To find instructions, search the model of your phone or camera and “how to focus” online. If you have an iPhone, the answer is simple: Tap the screen on the area that you want to be in focus. The phone will focus and adjust to the lighting at the same time.

THE GREAT: This photo from Sitka, Alaska, has it all. The blue tray allows the lunch to shine, even though it is not truly colorful. The meal is simple, but obviously good quality, especially when you learn the tacos are made with local fish. The student customer is adorable and clearly enjoying her lunch. There’s good contrast on the tray, nice lighting and the focus is excellent. Thanks to Sitka Conservation Society for sharing the tasty photo and their new Guide to Serving Local Fish in Schools.

Boat-to-school - AKA local fish - is popular in Sitka, Alaska

Boat-to-school – AKA local fish – is popular in Sitka, Alaska

THE MARGINAL: This photo is clearly not in focus. It does however show the rapid movement of lots of middle schoolers through a hallway and their use of a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart. If you decide to use a photo like this, it would be good to include another photo with better focus on the cart.

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

Lots of students moving past a Grab-n-Go Breakfast Cart

THE REAL NO-NOS: This is obviously a great lunch line with some great food options and a very proud employee. It just makes us wish that it was in focus.

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

A lovely line and happy employee are completely lost in the lack of focus

HOT TIP: There are lots of other ways, including apps, to improve the performance of your photos on your phone. This article has 10 Tips For Taking Better Photos With Your Smartphone – and there are many more like it online. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice – and always focus your phone or camera! 

 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (5 of 6)

Have you ever thought about what really makes a food appealing in person or in a photo? It often has a lot to do with contrast. The contrasting colors of food on a tray (or plate) – and the contrast with a background color – can make a break or make the eye appeal of any meal. Setting up school food photos for maximum contrast – on color, shape and size – can make your customers eager to try your food or turn them off to your program before they even walk through the line. Today’s focus is on checking the CONTRAST of your photo before you click. We’re working hard to get you ready for great photos for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #5: CONTRAST. This is actually very easy once you get in the habit. Every time you set up a school food photo, look for contrast. Put complementary colors next to each other and look for different shapes and sizes of food on a tray or plate.

THE GREAT: This gorgeous line of trays from Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools Schools, Georgia, almost looks like a quilt of deliciousness. Notice the bright colors of green and orange  produce, along with the rich gold and brown tones of the roll, chicken and pasta. Notice that the alternating placement of the trays provides even more visual contrast. This Chefs Move to Schools lunch featured a local chef and local Georgia-grown vegetables – and probably tasted as good as it looks.

Chefs Move to School Lunch, Savannah-Chatham County Schools, Georgia

Chefs Move to School Lunch, Savannah-Chatham County Schools, Georgia

THE MARGINAL: This is actually an incredible meal – with house-made noodles for the casserole and some local produce. However, the photo does not do justice to the meal – because there is not enough contrast among the foods and with the tray (it could POP on a blue or read tray). It also suffers from florescent lighting – and from being slightly out of focus.

Wonderful meal, not enough contrast

Wonderful meal, not enough contrast

THE REAL NO-NOS: This is also a wonderful local meal – everything on the tray came from within the state where it was served. It was also incredibly popular with students in a Southern elementary school. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize grits in the white bowl and the collards do not provide enough contrast. Viewers also cannot tell what is the container next to the sweet potato – and there is too much white and beige overall.

Poor contrast, poor lighting, too many lids and problems with focus

Poor contrast, poor lighting, too many bowls and too much white-beige

HOT TIP: Steer away from white on white – and add color whenever you can. Look for ways to contrast color, shape and size. (And, of course, flavors and textures for the lucky customers who actually get to eat the food!) The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (4 of 6)

In today’s electronic world, great school food photos are not an option – they are essential. We are increasingly a visual society and your customers want to see your meals, not just read a few words on a monthly menu. Lucky for you, great photos are just a click away on your SmartPhone – IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. We’re covering one element each day to get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #4: LIGHTING. One of the essential elements of a great food photo is good lighting, which can be difficult under the conditions in many school cafeterias and kitchens. Florescent lighting is harsh and tends to ‘wash out’ the natural colors of food. Professional food photographers agree – natural lightening is best for food, so the answer is simple: Take food to a window or skylight to get the lighting it deserves. Here are examples of GREAT, MARGINAL and REAL NO-NOS of lighting for trays shots.

THE GREAT: Even with a less than ideal tray color, this Starksboro, Vermont, lunch shows its true colors when taken under a cafeteria skylight. The house-made broccoli cheddar soup, Tuscan kale salad and hummus were outstanding – and the carrots were still locally-sourced from a farmer in March! Many thanks to Kathy Alexander, Laura Collaro, Mollie Silver and Doreen Bortz from ANESU Food Service Cooperative for a delicious dining experience in the their cafetorium.

Lovely, home-style lunch in Starksboro, Vermont.

Lovely, home-style lunch in Starksboro, Vermont.

THE MARGINAL: This is not a terrible photo and you certainly get the idea that this is nice salad bar with a variety of offerings. But with no adjustment for the florescent lighting, the colors are not very appetizing. The problems are compounded because the photo is also slightly out of focus. (Remember, salad bars are often on wheels so you can roll them over to a window for photographing.)

Washed out salad bar

Washed out colors in a beautiful salad bar

THE REAL NO-NOS: There are multiple problems with this photo but the lack of proper lighting makes everything worse. Notice too that the plastic wrap and other packaging reflects what light there is.

Not enough light, no natural light and plastic wrap make these items unappealing.

Not enough light, no natural light and plastic wrap make these items unappealing.

HOT TIP: If the lighting is not good where you want to take a school food photo, move the food toward natural light whenever possible. The best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice.