MCC food service director presents at SPARC conference in Grand Rapids

MANISTEE — School systems providing a healthy, nutritious lunch program has never been more important.

School districts everywhere are looking at options to provide healthier choices at lunch for their students. This week Manistee Catholic/Trinity Lutheran food service director Ann Lind gave a presentation on scratch cooking to the School Purchasing Resource  Conference (SPARC) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. (file photo)

School districts everywhere are looking at options to provide healthier choices at lunch for their students. This week Manistee Catholic/Trinity Lutheran food service director Ann Lind gave a presentation on scratch cooking to the School Purchasing Resource Conference (SPARC) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. (file photo)

State mandates are very specific in terms of what must be included on every lunch tray in terms of portion size and nutritional value. Many of the prepackaged foods come with the serving size that matches state mandates on the package, but when foods are prepared from scratch that can be a challenge for food service directors.

At Manistee Catholic Central and Trinity Lutheran schools, food service director Ann Lind has been putting together menus that include those types of foods made from scratch and this week she served as a presenter at the School Purchasing Resource Conference (SPARC) on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Lind shared some of those concepts with other food service directors about how to cook various items from scratch for a lunch program.

SPARC was developed by food service directors who joined together as a team. Their goal is to help school food service departments provided the freshest, healthiest and tastiest meals for students at the best possible value. By working together they help enhance buying power, keep food costs under control and maximize our USDA entitlement dollars.

“It’s a two-day conference and the first day there are people from the state that give updates and the regulations,” said Lind. “There also are workshops on cooking, recipes, marketing programs and I presented one on scratch cooking. The second day of the conference is a food show where they present new food items they want you to buy.”

Lind said there were about 50 food service directors at the show. She had about 15 attend her presentation and they seemed very interested in the cooking from scratch concept.

“I do about 95 percent scratch cooking at Manistee Catholic Central,” said Lind. “It’s all about fitting into the regulations as your five components for each meal are all regulated. You have to do all this calculating, because they say if you are cooking raw meat, the yield isn’t always the same. Two ounces of meat cooked from scratch doesn’t always mean two ounces of meet.”

One of the messages she put out at the conference was those schools that want to look at doing more scratch cooking should start small and work up.

“I told them start with one or two things and work their way up,” she said. “I suggested adding another item every month and you have that one thing under the belt and then work up.”

Lind said that often packaged food products like chicken nuggets plainly state on the package how many items are needed for a serving for one meat.

“They do all the math for you and all that is necessary is to heat it up and give it to the kids, so that is why it is easier,” said Lind. “The industry tends to push food districts into those products because they say it is cheaper. You also have some schools who have gutted their kitchens and they just need things to heat the food up.”

Lind said another thing she likes to do is give the students a lot of variety when it comes to vegetables. It is something she said prompts them to try more different types.

“For instance some of them will look and say what is a beet?” said Lind. “However, once they try it they realize it is good.”

She mixes in things like asparagus, parsnips, zucchini and much more at Manistee Catholic Central. However, Lind said one of the big keys is getting the kids to buy into it and that is done by listening to their feedback.

“You give them a little ownership and listen to what they have to say and it makes a difference,” she said. “We even give the little kids stickers when they try something new at lunch.”

Lind said with the way today’s world is with two working parents or financially strapped parents there are many children who get their one big meal for the day at school. That is why she also tries to make a personal connection with each child.

“I try to always remember that it might be their only good meal for the day and when you put a smile on top of it that can make a difference,” said Lind. “I also try to get to know all their names and ask them how their day is going.”

Last year Manistee Catholic began partnering with Trinity Lutheran School on food service and she is hoping to increase what they are doing there as well.

Lind said the SPARC event provided some good ideas for the upcoming year like this one dessert type treat of a smoothie on stick.

“It is fruit, yogurt and a little sugar and there are no preservatives in it,” said Lind. “Their little gimmick there do is there is a nice idea on each stick that say things like ‘Smile at someone who is sad’ or ‘Tell someone they are nice.'” We might try some of those on special days like picnics. The conference is just a good chance to get and share some ideas.”

Something she also hopes to increase even more in the future is the Farm-to-School products.

“We live in such a great agricultural area and for example most people don’t think kids would like asparagus, but when I am buying it locally they eat it twice a week and like it,” said Lind. “They are familiar with it and it’s from around here which is part of it.”

She said many of the local products like fruits and vegetables are seasonal, so it depends upon the availability of it at that particular time. Sweet corn, melons, peaches, plums, asparagus and some strawberries.

The whole concept comes down to the simple thought process that healthier foods makes healthier students.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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