Farm to School Heroes: Boulder School Kitchen Staff Sharpen Healthy Cooking Skills

Following in the wake of National Farm to School Month in October, we want to take a moment to acknowledge some of the biggest heroes of the Farm to School movement: the hardworking staff in school kitchens across Montana who are responsible for feeding 80,000 kids every day. What a job!

On October 16, NCAT brought several of those school food-service staff together at a Montana Cook Fresh training in Boulder, Montana. The training promoted healthy, local food in school cafeterias by providing participants with helpful skills for preparing whole, raw ingredients in school kitchens and turning them into delicious meals that meet school nutrition guidelines (and kids’ approval!).

Chef Karea Anderson demonstrating knife skills

Chef Karea Anderson demonstrating knife skills

Cook Fresh
The countertops of the Boulder Elementary School kitchen were covered with fresh produce ready for chopping as head trainer Chef Karea Anderson welcomed nine participants to the Montana Cook Fresh Training, a hands-on cooking course developed by Montana Team Nutrition of the Office of Public Instruction. Cook Fresh participants learn food preparation and cooking skills so that they are better equipped to serve fresh, healthy foods in school lunches. Hosted by NCAT, the training was part of a USDA Farm to School grant project that strives to bring more local food into Boulder and Butte school districts. Four food-service staff members from Boulder who cook for both the elementary and high school were joined by Butte’s Director of Food Services, an OPI Nutrition Specialist, an MSU dietetic intern, and two FoodCorps service members, making for a diverse group of people all committed to serving healthy food in schools.

Boulder staff member CeCe French perfecting her knife skills.

Boulder staff member CeCe French perfecting her knife skills

Knife Skills 101
The morning kicked off with a session on knife skills. Anderson, a chef at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena, demonstrated the various types of cuts to use when preparing onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, fresh herbs, kale, and peppers. Each participant had his or her own tray full of these fresh ingredients and spent time practicing the various cuts.

Anderson also offered helpful tips for working with tough ingredients, like butternut squash. “I like to warm them up in the microwave; warming them up really helps,” she noted. After heating the squash, Anderson demonstrated how to peel and chop it in the most efficient way possible, an important skill when preparing large quantities of food for hungry kids. Another tip for healthy foods was to add fresh herbs to a recipe at the end of preparation as a way to bring out the flavor without added sodium. She also showed off a commercial chopper, which makes serving fresh snacks such as apples and oranges easier on the staff, as time for preparation is a constraint faced by most kitchens.

Team Cooking
To bring all of the components of the day together, the group prepared Chili Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Veggie Wraps with Kale Pesto, and Black Bean and Sweet Potato Salad– all recipes that meet school nutrition requirements and utilize fresh, healthy ingredients. While cooking, teams tried out the new kitchen equipment that Boulder Elementary recently purchased with the Farm to School grant monies. When the cooking was complete, everyone sat down to eat together and reflect on the recipes. It was generally agreed that the sweet potato dishes were delicious, though they required a fair bit of labor. The group discussed what sort of equipment could help save on labor, ways to improve the flavor (more garlic!), and how kids would respond to the dishes. One participant commented, “The veggie wraps were amazing and probably not that much harder to make than enchiladas.”

Raw sweet potato fries

Raw sweet potato fries

Chopped vegetables after knife skills practice!

Chopped vegetables after knife skills practice!

 

Successful farm to school programs are dependent on the collaboration and dedication of many people in a school community, and food-service staff is high on that list of important players. Thanks to the many school food-service professionals across Montana who prioritize buying local food, and also thanks to Montana Team Nutrition and OPI for their commitment to growing farm to school efforts in our state.



NCAT Helps MT Youth Celebrate & Educate About Local Food

Hellgate Local Harvesters, Hellgate Project Manager Lee Brown, NCAT's Jeremy Drake, and FoodCorps service member Amy Harvey

Hellgate Local Harvesters (from l to r) Francie, Helen, Claudia, Sarah, Carolyn, Alice, and Annie with Hellgate faculty member and the team’s Local Harvest Grant Project Manager Lee Brown, NCAT’s Jeremy Drake, and FoodCorps service member Amy Harvey

Congratulations Local Harvesters Claudia Wiese, Helen Hartley, Sarah Brown, Carolyn Graham, Annie Little Broberg, and Francie Lorenzen for hosting the Hellgate Rooftop Salsa Party on Wednesday, October 8 in Missoula in celebration of National Farm to School Month. Check out the front page feature in The Missoulian.

Well over 100 students munched on chips and local salsa made in part from ingredients grown by the S.A.V.E. club members in Hellgate’s rooftop garden. They were joined by Hellgate principal Lisa Hendrix, faculty, staff, parents, and community members including MCPS K-12 Trustee Diane Lorenzen. Party goers had the opportunity to hear from the Local Harvest youth planning committee about their experience preparing for the event, learn about local food from FoodCorps service member Amy Harvey, play Local Food Bingo with prizes from local businesses, and plant their own garlic clove (grown by Local Harvester Sarah and her sister Alice) in a biodegradable repurposed newspaper pot in soil donated by Garden City Harvest.

Serving up local salsa

Serving up local salsa

Everyone at the Montana Healthy Food and Communities Initiative is thrilled to have helped make this event happen through the Growing Leaders Local Harvest Event Grant, which provided funding, training, and support. The Rooftop Salsa Party was the second of two Local Harvest events to take place in fall of 2014 as part of this new Growing Leaders youth initiative. Click here to read about the first event, Flathead High School’s grand opening of the Growing a Better World garden.

Local Food Bingo at the Hellgate Rooftop Salsa Party

Local Food Bingo at the Hellgate Rooftop Salsa Party

And a big shout out to Hellgate High School teacher Lee Brown for providing guidance and support for these youth throughout veggie growing and event planning. His efforts are building the soil in which these young leaders are growing!

Check out the front page feature in The Missoulian.