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School cafeteria staff compete, test recipes
Long nutrition training 1
Long County School System nutrition employees participate in a training session recently that was formatted to resemble a television cooking show. - photo by Photo provided.

The Long County School System’s nutrition employees participated in a semi-annual in-service training session Jan. 5. School Nutrition Director Stephanie Fox said she wanted to do something different this time around to train workers and get them fully engaged. She decided to gear their school-nutrition training around a format similar to cooking competition shows on television, such as “The Taste” and “Master Chef.”
During the session, Fox had her staff prepared eight new recipes. Before a dish can be placed on any school menu, it needs to be tried, tested and evaluated to become standardized recipe, which ensures consistency when used in school kitchens.
“When a recipe is prepared at any of our school kitchens, the end product should be the same no matter the location. Today’s training will allow us to prepare these new recipes to make sure the cooking instructions, time, temperatures, ingredients, portion sizes and yield are consistent with the expected end results,” Fox said.
Participants did not know ahead of time what format their training would take. The test kitchen was broken down into three stations, one for each school. After being welcomed, staffers were given instructions for taking part in “The Taste.” Recipes and ingredients already had been set up at each station. Each manager had a limited amount of time to develop an action plan and break their staffs down into three smaller groups to prepare their assigned recipes. Each group had to finish preparing their dish and have it set up on the serving line to be tested by
11 a.m.  
“Each group was instructed that if they were to add any additional ingredients, such as spices and seasoning, to make sure to write them down so the recipes can be revised to ensure they reflect the actual products that were prepared and tested today,” Fox said.
Each group met the deadline and by 11 a.m., the serving line boasted several new recipes, including chicken alfredo with a twist, sloppy-joe casserole, pizza casserole, cowboy stir-fry, sweet Thai chili chicken, beef and rice casserole, fiesta beans and rice, and whole-grain Spanish rice. All participants received samples of each item and were asked to complete a survey and judge each dish on its taste, appearance and overall acceptability.
“Once the surveys were complete, we collectively discussed what changes we thought should or should not be made to any of the recipes,” Fox said.
After the staff completed that process, the school-nutrition director invited other Long County School System employees to sample the dishes and complete surveys, too.
The nutrition staff ended its instructional day in the afternoon with additional cashier and safety training. Also, Julie Wilkinson from the Southeast Dairy Association gave a “Strive for 35” presentation that focused on the importance of childhood dairy consumption and stressed the safety mandates for keeping milk and dairy products at proper temperatures.
“The ‘Strive for 35’ presentation was very informative as well as interactive, and I believe the information provided today will be very beneficial to our school nutrition program,” Fox said, adding that the day was a “total success. We walked away from training today with six new recipes ready to be included on our menus while allowing the entire school-nutrition staff to work collectively together in one kitchen with their peers from other kitchens, which does not happen too often enough.”

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