The Eugene 4J School District is moving their meal services in-house. After more than 20 years of working with large food service companies, staff are trying out locally-sourced recipes.
At the 4J Education Center, a pot of chili con carne bubbles on a stovetop. Jill Cuadros, chef and regional manager, describes how they’ll serve the meal to schoolchildren.
“We will portion this dish as a vegetarian/vegan and then we will combine a second portion for the meat alternative. Then we will have both options on our menu for that day,” says Cuadros.
The Education Center’s test kitchen was created this summer to develop recipes staff will use in schools. The change comes after parent groups pushed for healthier locally-produced food in their cafeterias. Cuadros says that’s what they’re working on.
“Then we develop recipes from that, we look at the nutritional profile for children, we see how they fit into the USDA guidelines that we have to work under, and then we go to work in the kitchen,” says Cuadros.
Not only do the staff want to serve healthy meals to kids, but they also want kids to be excited about eating school food.
Holly Langan, director of support services, says they take a lot of things into consideration when making a new recipe.
“They’re testing on the time it takes, they’re testing on the techniques,” says Langan. “If you have to do a bunch of chopping, do they have the right utensils, do they have the right equipment with them. Then obviously the most important thing is taste.”
The recipes, once developed, will go to 4J schools districtwide. When school starts next month, they’ll have at least one in-house made meal a week. And serve heated pre-prepared foods on the other days. The plan is to expand their menus to have in-house made meals every day.