NORTH CRAWFORD - The North Crawford foodservice program is making lots of innovative changes. The program has gained steadily in popularity in recent years with both students and staff. Especially popular has been the introduction of a ‘build your own’ salad bar, featuring a tasty selection of fresh vegetables. This year the school has even begun to source vegetables from local produce growers.
“We determined that the quality and freshness of the produce we could source from local growers just couldn’t be beat,” school nutrition coordinator Angie Boland said. “We were finding that the stuff we had been getting from our regular supplier would go bad before we could serve it to the students.”
October is National Farm to School Month, a national celebration of food education, school gardens and lunch trays filled with healthy, local ingredients.
The school is sourcing fresh produce from Driftless Organics and Circadian Organics, and apples from Sunrise Orchard. Purchases from these local producers include green, red and yellow peppers, beets, onions and carrots from Driftless; tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green and red peppers, onions and cucumbers from Circadian; and apples from Sunrise.
“The produce we’re getting is fresh, and because we have a direct relationship with the local growers, they take care to provide the kids with great vegetables,” Boland said. “They’re small, local, and our neighbors, and the vegetables are fresh and delicious.”
Boland said she thinks that it’s good to keep a portion of their foodservice purchases local.
“It helps our local economy, and a stronger local economy means that we will have a stronger school system.”
In 2017, two students conducted a survey of student and staff satisfaction with the school’s foodservice program. Overall, the results showed that the students were happy with the program and would like to see more variety in what is offered.
“We did a lot of experimentation with different foods and menu items in the summer session this year,” Boland explained. “The summer session taste testings were a goldmine of information for us that has allowed us to refine our menu selections.”
Head cook Janet Pittsley explained that the school serves about 12 to 15 pounds of lettuce per day, and the ‘build your own’ format with the salad bar is very popular.
“We’re serving about 180 students at breakfast, and about 300 at lunch,” Pittsley said. “That means we have about 66 percent participation among students, and staff participation is up 14 percent this year as well.”
Boland explained that one of the keys to continuous improvement in the programs offerings is the open channel of communication and feedback they’ve created with the students.
“We spend lots of time in one-on-one interaction with the students to see what the kids do and don’t like,” Boland explained. “At this point, the kids are very comfortable with giving us feedback.”
Pittsley said that among the programs most popular menu items are homemade chicken and gravy served over mashed potatoes, the salad bar, a popcorn chicken bar and nachos.
New this year, the school has obtained a ‘Chef Culinary Demonstration’ grant. This grant will allow a chef associated with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to come into the school, prepare a menu item for the children, and then allow them to taste the dish.
The two culinary demonstrations will be provided to students in a K-2 group, and a grade 3-5 group on Tuesday, Nov. 6. One group will get to try a ‘Tropical Bean Salsa,’ made with black beans, mango, red bell pepper, cilantro and lime juice. The other group will taste a ‘Rainbow Carrot Crunch,’ made with carrots of different colors, spinach and raisins, with a dressing made of orange juice, cider vinegar, sugar and vegetable oil.
“We want to use these demonstrations to show kids that cooking can be fun,” Boland said. “Sometimes in busy, modern families, people don’t focus on cooking as much any more.”
More fun in store
As if a basic hot bar and salad bar, growing in popularity, isn’t exciting enough, the program also has some other special events planned.
“On October 11, North Crawford will be joining schools from all over the upper Midwest in the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch,” Boland said. “This is always a popular event, and allows students to enjoy an apple grown right in our community.”
In addition, the school will offer a family-style sit down meal for elementary students; a family breakfast for students and a family member; a chili tasting event in November; a ‘restaurant-style’ event, where high school students order off a menu and are served by their teachers; and a school-wide cookout near the end of the school year.
At the family style meal, high school students are paired with elementary students, “sort of like a big brother or sister eating lunch with their younger sibling.”
“We like to focus on the family-oriented events,” Boland said. “This is in keeping with one of the themes of North Crawford – ‘The North Crawford Family’.”