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‘Hungry for ideas’ – Russellville hosts CNP training for state cafeteria managers

The atmosphere in Russellville High School kitchen had more than one cafeteria manager commenting on the feeling they were participating in Food Network cooking show.

A couple dozen cafeteria managers from across Alabama took part in a Healthy Cuisine for Kids workshop put on by the Institute of Child Nutrition through the Alabama State Department of Education. The two-day workshop was led by registered dietitian Lenora Phillips and Chef Michael Roddey. Russellville was chosen to be a host site for the statewide program, which is designed to enhance child nutrition programs in Alabama schools.

The training touched on everything from basic knife skills, to other food prep best practices, to effective seasoning and serving techniques, in a combination lecture/lab format. Cafeteria managers put their skills to the test on dishes like crispy fish wraps, chicken and butternut squash stir-fry and quinoa salad.

“I think it’s great,” said Russellville child nutrition program director Elaine Vaughn. “With the guidelines we have to use, we need to know other ways to flavor food and how to make it look appealing and enticing to our students … You eat with your eyes. If it doesn’t look good, they’re not even going to try it.”

Tantalizing scents wafted out of the kitchen as the cafeteria managers chopped, grated, zested, simmered and stirred their way through Roddey’s instructions. Roddey, an executive chef from California, said educating school staffs on food prep and cooking is an important piece of the puzzle in proper nutrition community-wide.

“The main goal is really to help refine their culinary skill sets and develop their toolbox,” Roddey said. “Food is just food. You just have to approach it with the right methodology.”

Phillips said teaching the cafeteria managers how to teach the skills and procedures explained during the two-day training to their own staffs was a focal point. “They will go back and do staff development with their staff and talk about what they have learned here this summer and how they can enhance what they were already doing,” Phillips explained.

The program was requested for Alabama cafeteria managers through the Alabama State Department of Education.

“We’re wanting them to have ways to bring fresh products back into the kitchen to serve to the students,” explained Robbie Scott, education specialist with ALSDE.

“I think the managers are very excited and really wanting to find new ways to serve and prepare food. I think they are hungry for ideas to take back to their kitchens. They just want to be able to feed their students and help them make healthier choices,” added ALSDE education specialist Kacyce Davis. “Kids are usually the pickiest eaters, so it’s good to be creative in how it’s presented.”

Cafeteria managers said the training was enjoyable and beneficial. Several said that the knife skills training was one of the most enlightening portions of the program.

“We’re using a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables these days than what we have in years past because the guidelines,” said Patricia Cooper, manager at West Elementary School in Russellville. Her cafeteria feeds more than 700 children per day during the school year. “I’m hoping I can incorporate some of these recipes, even … and show my ladies what I have learned. They do most of the cooking preparing, but if I can do anything to help them and help show them how to do something new, that’s what I’m here for.”

“It’s been wonderful,” added Rachel Pickett, manager at Russellville Middle School. “I came into it thinking it was going to be one of those boring meetings again, but it’s been so much fun. (Chef Roddey) has made it so delightful.”

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