Getting fresh

RSU 20 food service staff chews on tips for healthy change

By Tanya Mitchell | Aug 25, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Executive Chef Anthony Bussiere with NorthCenter Foods talks with the RSU 20 food service staff about different varieties of tomatoes during a training session at Troy Howard Middle School Thursday, Aug. 23.

Belfast — About 20 members of the RSU 20 food service staff attended a four-hour training session Thursday, Aug. 23, aimed at bringing more home cooking into school cafeterias.

RSU 20 Food Service Director Perley Martin organized the session and invited Executive Chef Anthony Bussiere to lead the discussion and conduct demonstrations of everything from all-natural spices in place of salt to enhance flavor to shortcuts for prepping fresh produce. Bussiere works for NorthCenter Foods in Augusta, the vendor through which Martin said the district obtains many of the products used to create the dishes served in school lunchrooms.

The training session took place at Troy Howard Middle School.

Because the food service program is undergoing lots of changes in an effort to bring more healthy choices to the table, Martin said he thought Bussiere could help the staff learn ways of upping the nutritional value of daily meals while still getting the job done in a timely fashion.

"The agenda for today really reflects the transition we're going into here, and all of the changes," said Martin. "This is the first time we've had a guest speaker."

Demonstrations included ways to prepare green vegetables like bok choy, Swiss chard and collard greens using criteria outlined in the national initiative known as Healthier U.S. Challenge, and using fresh chicken to replace processed breaded chicken patties. Bussiere also offered tutorials on how to make sauces and gravies in-house, and how to reduce waste by using leftover cucumber slices to make home-style pickles.

"You'll never throw away cucumbers again," said Bussiere.

Bussiere also talked about increasing participation in school lunch programs by focusing on food presentation, and serving up each meal with a smile.

Martin said the prices of school lunches will not increase this year, but students may notice smaller portions of certain food groups, depending on their age. Students in grades K-8, Martin said, will see smaller portions of protein, while high school-aged youths will see smaller portions of breads.

"We're trying to reduce the total number of calories per serving," said Martin, noting that the changes are intended to address increasing childhood obesity rates in Maine and across the nation. "Bread and protein have a lot of fat and calories," he said.

Because the district participates in healthy snack programs that offer students fresh fruits and vegetables both during and after school, Martin said the idea behind the changes is to consider the students' total caloric intake throughout the day.

And though there may be fewer protein- or bread-related calories on school lunchroom trays this year, Martin said students will regularly see fresh produce on the menu, though perhaps not as many choices on a daily basis. Instead of three choices of fresh greens, Martin said, there may be two in the salad bar on a given day.

"We're going to be taking that time and funneling it toward prepping the fresh fruits and vegetables," said Martin.

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