PRYOR, OK —
Special to Pryor Times
STILLWATER – A broad effort to put even more flavorful sizzle and nutritional pop in recently upgraded school breakfast and lunch menus will get underway in earnest in Oklahoma this summer.
School nutrition staff across the state will have a chance to take advantage of cutting-edge culinary training designed to help them prepare fresh and appealing meals loaded with nutrition.
Part of a long-term commitment of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OKSDE) Child Nutrition Programs to contribute to the health and well-being of school age children, the project brings together expertise from Oklahoma State University faculty in the departments of nutritional sciences and hotel and restaurant administration, the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, as well as OKSDE and certified executive chefs.
“The goal of our initiative isn’t to just teach nutrition staff how to prepare certain menus, but to help provide them with the skills to prepare healthy meals,” said Deana Hildebrand, OSU Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.
Specifically, the culinary training program will emphasize using fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, increasing whole grains and learning food preparation techniques that enhance flavor while reducing sodium.
Part of the aim of the program is to get schools and parents to work together to establish kids’ healthy eating habits.
“We recognize parents’ responsibility for helping their kids create healthy eating behaviors, but kids also spend a lot of time at school,” said Joanie Hildenbrand, assistant state superintendent of OKSDE Child Nutrition Programs. “Parents want to serve healthy foods at home, but also want their kids to eat. If kids have a chance to choose and eat healthy foods at home, they’ll want healthy choices at school. So, this is a chance for schools and parents to partner for the good of our children.”
The multifaceted project will begin this summer by piloting training sessions for school lunch professionals in Comanche, Garfield, Grady, Kingfisher, Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
Participants will spend two days sharpening critical food preparation skills that can be used in new recipes and menus created by a trio of certified executive chefs, who will spearhead the training sessions.
In order to fine-tune the program in advance of its 2015 statewide debut, Hildebrand will lead a team in conducting plate waste studies at all six pilot sites both before and after the training sessions to evaluate the effectiveness of menus and preparation techniques featured in the training.
As part of the broader rollout, school nutrition professionals will be able to participate in regional training sessions and tap into a website containing recipes, food specifications and nutritional analyses.
They also will be able to access a library of training videos developed by Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist, emphasizing basic food preparation skills.
In addition, program administrators are planning on creating a program recognizing participating schools and making available private consultations with chefs at no cost to schools.
By the time the culinary training program completes its contracted five-year term, Hildebrand said it has the potential to affect every Oklahoma school student who eats school breakfast and lunch.
“Our hope is that because the meals will be fresher and increasingly appealing, more and more students and parents will elect to enjoy meals at school,” Hildebrand said.