Guide to School Nutrition Excellence

Discover top highlights and trends from a round table discussion with three directors of nutrition on their approach and considerations for evolving their school lunch programs.

School nutrition programs play a crucial role in nourishing young minds, especially with most students today relying on school meals for most of their daily needs 

Alto-Shaam sat down with three directors of school nutrition in various parts of the country to ask about their approach and considerations they make in continuously evolving their programs. Here are the top highlights and trends that came out of the roundtable discussion 

Why is School Nutrition Important? 

Nutrition is not only fundamental for growth and development in children, but it also teaches them about the benefits of healthy eating. Some students even rely on their school meal programs to try new foods. 

"We have 74% of students who get their meals from school, whether it be breakfast, lunch, snacks, and even supper," said Nicole Moorhead, child nutrition director at MSD of Decatur Township in Indianapolis, Indiana.   

The importance of providing healthy food options throughout the day helps children with their academic careers. Nicole has focused on driving fundraisers like her Angel Fund, which aims to help continue to provide students with access to healthy meals throughout the dayparts 

What are some ways you elevate your cafeteria menus? 

One way to build trust and get children excited about new food is to have a variety of quality meals that are tailored to student preferences.  

Nikki Williams, director of school nutrition at Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin, enhanced their pizza program using a Vector® multi-cook ovenHer staff also uses an Alto-Shaam Prodigi™ combi oven to proof and bake cinnamon rolls and fresh breads for subs.  

Kelly Price, food service director at Donegal School District in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, added that they can cook a variety of food in their Vector oven – from air fried chicken to roasted zucchini and mushrooms. Based on their location, they partner with local farms and the community for fresh food to support scratch cooking for shaved beef sandwiches, stews, and more. 

Vector has improved reliability for both schools by quickly producing different foods at the same time.  

Featuring Structured AirTechnology®, Vector can cook up to four different food items at different temperatures, fan speeds and cook times—all at the exact same time, without flavor transfer between oven chambers. For example, a school can bake cookies in one chamber, grill veggies in the second chamber, and air fry chicken tenders in the third chamberensuring a quicker turnaround time to deliver quality meals to students throughout the day – on an as need basis. 

How do you engage students?  

In recent years, schools have seen the benefit of opening up the lunchroom kitchen to not only feed nutritious food, but also to nutrition curriculum.  

Kelly shared that her school district has created a cooking club to teach students how to make basic meals. They use their Alto-Shaam equipment to build that trust and equip them with skills to take back home and make them excited to come in to the cafeteria the next day.  

She has also worked with business students at the high school to apply marketing skills they are learning in the classroom to help promote new menus. The students create graphics, signage and incentives for their peers to try new foods, with a rotating international menu also aligned with the language program curriculum in their school 

How have you boosted productivity in your kitchens? 

Nikki Williams finds that kids see, learn and go home and tell their parents about what food they learned about. Some students might not always have access to a variety of different foods, and it’s important for them to have a healthy varietyShe shared how providing fresh and hot meals can make all the difference, as it may be their best meal of the day, whether that be chicken wingsoatmeal, or fresh veggies and fruit. 

According to Nicole Moorhead, to support serving students across their 14 sites, they needed to serve a large quantity of students quickly. With Vector, they not only noticed the improved quality of their food, but their staff was able to increase their turnaround time, serving over 1,000 meals daily during their summer feeding programs. 

What support has helped you as you evolve your program?  

A common misconception is that lunch ladies put food on a tray and that’s as complex as their job gets. In reality, they are experts in kitchen processes, meal components, recipes, proper sanitation, cross-contamination prevention and more 

Nicole shared that the expertise of her team is often overlooked. An Alto-Shaam certified chef that supported her team saw the team as the professionals they are, and helped show they how they can utilize Alto-Shaam equipment to achieve their goals. They have seen value by using ChefLinc remote oven management system to find out which meals are the most popular and profitable for their business.  

This Wi-Fi enabled feature gives operators full control of their ovens across locations. Create, manage, and push recipes and menus to other connected ovens, or explore Alto-Shaam’s global library for culinary inspiration and easily add new recipes to your library. USBs are no longer needed to transfer information to other ovens across locations. ChefLinc is also packed with data-driven insights, detailed reports, service alerts, diagnostics, and more, for operators to make informed decisions and improve kitchen efficiency.  

No matter what your school nutrition goals are, Alto-Shaam has an equipment system designed to support your staff. Learn more by visiting Alto-Shaam’s K-12 industry page.  

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