I was always more of a brown-bagger when it came to lunch. The high school cafeteria food was gross – although I did have a penchant for their ham and cheese melts on some sort of white wallpaper bun – but cost was the primary factor. Why would anyone pay for stuff that could be made at home for nothing when parental-types bought the food.
That was in Canada. The U.S. school lunch program is a little different.
And now the lunch ladies are developing their culinary skills to go along with the demand for so-called healthier foods.
Dawn Cordova, a longtime school cafeteria worker attending Denver Public Schools’ first "scratch cooking" training this summer, told Associated Press,
"It’s more work to cook from scratch, no doubt."
Cordova and about 40 other Denver lunch ladies spent three weeks mastering knife skills, baking and chopping fruits and vegetables for some of the school district’s first salad bars.
Denver is among countless school systems in at least 24 states working to revive proper cooking techniques in its food service staff.
The city issued its 600 or so cafeteria employees white chefs’ coats and hats and plans to have all its kitchen staff trained in basic knife skills within three years.
Well-known area chefs visit for primers on food safety, chopping technique and making healthy food more appetizing to young diners (hint: kids prefer veggies cut into funky shapes, not boring carrot sticks).
Chefs say that schools embraced processed food so completely that many newer cafeterias lack the basics of a production kitchen, such as produce sinks, oven hoods or enough cold storage to keep meat and produce fresh.
No mention of microbial food safety, but with all the extra kitchen prep, the risk potential increases, especially with cross-contamination. Here’s hoping they master the basics unlike the TV cooks who routinely serve up microbiological disasters.