Times Are Changing and So Is School Food in Fort Morgan

By Chef Sarah Kvichak, LiveWell School Food Initiative 

“Offering scratch lunch is not only socially responsible, but enjoyable!”

Current school meal preparation often looks a little like this: opening a box and placing frozen chicken pucks in a pan, reheating them in the steamer, then serving on a bun processed with high-fructose corn syrup; opening cans of green beans and fruit cocktail and individually portioning them into Styrofoam cups with lids; and rehydrating artificial butter flavored potato flakes. But with the proper skills, preparation can look like this:  tossing raw bone-in chicken breast in homemade barbeque sauce and roasting to golden brown, serving it alongside mashed potatoes made with real milk and a freshly-baked roll, and allowing unlimited trips to the salad bar full of colorful hand-cut fruits and vegetables and complete with homemade salad dressings. All of this is served up with a side of pride and contributes to happy bellies, longer attention spans, and better grades. The positive results of offering scratch lunch have been seen across the state, all while using the same amount of time and money as the current premade food model. Below I highlight one great example from Fort Morgan, CO.

Carol Tormohlen, Director of Food Service for Morgan County School District, is motivated to improve the freshness and variety of food served in her eight schools. Last school year (2015-2016), her dedicated food service staff served an average of 3,277 meals a day to the 3,272 enrolled students and 2,859 meals a day to 3,312 enrolled students during the 2014-2015 school year. LiveWell Colorado’s School Food Initiative team began working in the Morgan County School District in May of 2016. In August, the food service team participated in a two-day, multi-district culinary training where they learned professional knife skills, time management, scratch sauce production, how to read recipes, handling raw chicken, setting up self-serve salad bars, managing complex change, school food fiscal planning, and marketing and communications strategies. Since then, Carol’s staff has had refresher trainings on knife skills, food safety, kitchen equipment usage, time management, and working with salad bars.

Carol has worked closely with our School Food Initiative team to tailor a two-year plan to provide professional development to staff and increase the fresh meal offerings that her students want and deserve. We kicked off the year by surveying secondary school students to better understand their feelings about school food, and polled which old food items to replace. By February 2017, my chef team had individually trained all seven kitchens on preparing and serving refried beans from dried pintos, locally grown potatoes, and from-scratch sesame chicken. Additional goals include bringing in cleaner ingredients such as raw meats, fresh whole produce items, and minimally processed scratch made sauces. Carol also plans to put salad bars in all primary schools, continue to offer salad bars in the secondary schools, reduce the amount of disposables used daily, and arm her cooks with the skills, tools, and motivation to continue on with these initiatives in coming years.

Leaders of this scratch-made school lunch movement understand and support the time, patience and funding realities of the transition; accordingly, Carol is limiting menu changes to a few times a month to start. With continued partnership from the Colorado Department of Education and aid through many grant funders such as Action for Healthy Kids and the Colorado Health Foundation, Morgan County Schools and many other districts across the state will continue achieving a healthier and tastier future for our school children, starting on their lunch trays.