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School lunch planning the KIBSD way

School lunch planning the KIBSD way
By Noelle H. Lowery

When Carl Butler attended a national food conference in Texas last year, he had an epiphany regarding school lunch planning: Student input is important, and students should be involved in choosing items for the school lunch menu.

According to Butler, the purchasing supervisor for Kodiak Island Borough School District, school lunch items usually are chosen during the Annual Food Show in Anchorage by members of KIBSD’s Food Service Department. “(They have) the opportunity to try new products through sampling and to decide what products the students might like,” explained Butler. “Sometimes, though, the things (the adults) might like will not always be same for the students. Involving (the students) in choosing the next year’s menu allows them to feel they are making a positive impact in regards to a healthy food program.”

This spring, Butler jumped on the chance to make his revelation a reality by enlisting students from the Kodiak High School Culinary Arts/FCCLA program and Student Council for a school lunch mini-taste fair. Working with the KHS cafeteria staff, Culinary Arts teacher Chef Samantha Mann and Student Council advisor Lindsey Glenn, Butler contacted as many vendors as possible for samples of new dishes. The team then developed a process to conduct the taste fair with the Culinary Arts/FCCLA students manning the kitchen.

Under the watchful eye of Chef Sam, the students prepped and portioned out items for sample, much like the preparation that actually goes in making school lunches everyday throughout KIBSD. “The students in the FCCLA were extremely helpful,” said Butler. “This would not have been successful without their desire to see it through, even volunteering to stay longer to serve and clean up. What a group of amazing and talented students!”

On the menu for the KIBSD school lunch mini-taste fair were more than 36 different samples, and the students took the tasting of the foods as seriously as they took the preparation. The big winners were Tyson Drum Sticks, Tyson Chicken Patties, Terriyaki Chicken, Tornadoes and various pastries. The jalapeño cornbread, salmon wrap and BBQ-Rib patty were given a thumbs down by the students.

“All of the food was amazing, and it was really fun getting to experience the unique flavors of the different dishes,” noted ninth-grader Adrianna Catterson. “It showed me all of the different types of food that can be offered to schools.”

She thought this process “can help the district create better lunches.”

Another ninth-grader Danielle Brown agreed. She added that getting input from students on school lunch choices can help school districts “know what foods more kids like to eat”, and as a result, “less food would be wasted if kids liked what they are eating.”

Chef Sam embraced the opportunity for her students to take part in the taste fair: “I was excited about the idea of involving students in our lunch choices. Students seem to feel more invested when they’ve had a chance to be a part of the decision-making process…They feel more ownership in the wellbeing of the school and their fellow students, and will enjoy seeing their choices reflected on the school menu next year.”

She enjoyed watching the students file into the kitchen and observing “literal jaw drops in amazement at the variety and sheer number of new food items to try.”

The exercise also had a deeper meaning for Chef Sam. She felt the overall experience gave the students a new perspective and appreciation for what goes into managing a school cafeteria on a daily basis.

“I think the biggest benefit to students, both culinary students and those who sampled the items, is a having a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes every day,” she emphasizes. “A lot of work goes into preparing lunch every day, and for many students, this was their first chance to see exactly how much work that is.”

In the end, she was incredibly proud of the KHS students who participated. “I didn’t expect students to be as invested as they were,” she said. “But…(they) really took pride in their work and enjoyed stepping up and taking responsibility for improving their school.