NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!
Do you remember school lunch from when you were a student? Rectangle pizza and pineapple tidbits seemed to be a weekly staple in my elementary days.
Luckily for current students, lunch choices have improved, and in Eastern Carver County Schools, the dedicated Nutrition Services staff have worked with many local vendors to create meals from scratch and to provide variety to students.
Some recent additions to the line-up:
- Every Friday at the high school, there are build-it-bars that feature Nashville Hot and Caprese Chicken Sliders, served with classic baked french fries, and of course lots of fresh fruit and veggie options.
- The Bahn Mi Pork Sandwich features duroc pork from Swanson Meats, baguette from Breadsmith, and homemade pickled veggies.
- The newest scratch made menu item at elementary schools, Suugo Suqaar, a Somali pasta dish, was a hit with its January release.
- Whole wheat cinnamon rolls with fresh fruit and milk are breakfast options for elementary students every other Thursday.
ECCS Nutrition Services’ focus on scratch cooking and working with local producers results in some amazing food.
“We will always strive to create menu items from scratch when possible,” Kim Franta, director of Nutrition Services for District 112, said. “We have been strategically outfitting our kitchens with upgraded equipment such as tilting skillets, commercial food processors and blenders, etc. that allows us to purchase whole foods, often from local farmers and producers, that are very high quality. A few of our favorite local partners are Ben Penner (organic flour), Doubting Thomas (organic oats), Ames Farm (honey), and Ferndale Market (free range turkey).”
Overall, ECCS Nutrition Services served 440,735 breakfasts and 1,076,633 lunches last school year. Our child nutrition programs help our students get the nutrition they need to learn, play, grow and develop.
GIVING STUDENTS A VOICE
Nutrition Services offers kids’ choice days at elementary schools. Students at Carver Elementary designed a menu of spaghetti with homemade beef marinara, steamed corn, pea pods, grapes, strawberries, and brownies earlier this school year.
Recently, student council members at Jonathan Elementary had a chance to meet with Franta and Laura Wacker-Hansen, assistant director of nutrition services, to sample some new menu items for the current school year. Students taste-tested bagels, macaroni and cheese, and yogurt smoothies.
“I would love this,” one student said of the smoothies.
Franta explained to students that they would be back yet this school year to talk about potential new items for next school year.
“I would like more of a variety of foods from other countries,” another student said.
“We want to make sure you have choices too,” Franta said. “Did you try the Suugo Suqaar?”
“It was delicious,” the student said.
Franta and Wacker-Hansen told the students that upcoming new lunch options will include Swedish meatballs, Samboosa (a traditional pastry stuffed with ground beef) and chicken enchiladas with Sonoran red sauce.
WORKING WITH STUDENTS
Lucas Almendinger was hired in 2022 as the district’s first chef. The position is made possible through designated funding that must stay within the nutrition services department. Almendinger, with previous experience as a chef in multiple restaurants, as well as a senior living center, was excited for the opportunity.
“Lucas has taken the lead on initiatives such as our department's cultural sharing menus, local procurement, and staff culinary training, to name a few,” Franta said.
“The progression of our school food menus is definitely a team process. There are no rules in restaurants, there very much are rules, budgetary concerns, in schools, so it’s about problem-solving, finding ways to make it happen,” Almendinger said.
Franta said Eastern Carver County Schools are in a unique position. The district is big enough to have buying power with vendors, yet small enough where most of the kitchens have the resources to produce high-quality meals for entire buildings.
“There have been hardships in getting basic products since COVID. I feel very fortunate that we have become less reliant on the supply chain. It’s a great place to be,” Almendinger said.
Asked about his favorite additions to school menus this year, Almendinger teased about an upcoming menu item at middle and high schools, jerk chicken.
“The fact that we were able to make a homemade cookie, have it be delicious and stay compliant within the rules, was so exciting. I would also say the Suugo Suqaar pasta. It’s fun to learn new cuisines, one that is really underrepresented. It’s a great gateway into some exciting food options,” Almendinger said.
In addition to developing new recipes, Nutrition Services staff venture into schools to work with students. Almendinger worked with La Academia third graders to make banana bread as a part of their unit on the country of Guatemala for Hispanic Heritage Month last October. The leadership team worked with Chaska Middle School West Discover program students to collaborate on a functional cooking lesson. After making apple nachos in their first time together, strawberry banana smoothies were on the menu in the second lesson of the pilot program.
“In Nutrition Services, we view our kitchen and cafeterias as an extension of the classroom where students are learning about nutrition and food as a life skill. We know that well-nourished students will perform better in the classroom, and we take that responsibility very seriously, always trying to create food that is both nutritious and something students are excited to eat,” Franta said.