From salad bar etiquette to kitchen safety to the effect of sugar on a child's metabolism, Culinary Boot Camp students make the connection between their work and the lifelong health and wellness of the children they feed. From salad bar etiquette to kitchen safety to the effect of sugar on a child’s metabolism, Culinary Boot Camp students make the connection between their work and the lifelong health and wellness of the children they feed.

By Dean Zatkowsky.

The School Food Initiative brochure points out that “There’s more to school food than what’s on the tray,” and then charts the relationship between public policy, garden-based learning, food literacy, kitchen grants, environmental understanding, and healthy school meals.

But those healthy school meals are the most visible goal of the initiative, and next week we celebrate the completion of a five-year cycle of Culinary Boot Camps that improved food service workers’ ability to provide healthy, cooked-from-scratch meals at over half of the schools in Santa Barbara County.

Since 2008, 350 school food service workers have participated in the program, deepening their understanding of everything from how to read a recipe to knife-handling skills to how to improve their own health and that of their students.

Classroom sessions provide in-depth lessons on everything from the nutritional content of legumes to the economics of USDA commodities purchasing. Classroom sessions provide in-depth lessons on everything from the nutritional content of legumes to the economics of USDA commodities purchasing.

The name may suggest a “boot camp” atmosphere, but the genial staff of Chef Instructors and SFI coworkers ensures that all participants enjoy the fast-paced,  in-depth classroom and kitchen instruction and graduate with more than new skills and knowledge: Students leave Culinary Boot Camp with a clear understanding of – and pride in –  their ability to influence children’s lifelong health and wellness.

Boot Camp proceeds at a brisk pace, but no faster than a school kitchen preparing for lunch. Boot Camp proceeds at a brisk pace, but no faster than a school kitchen preparing for lunch.

The June 24-28 event in Santa Maria is the last scheduled Culinary Boot Camp, but School Food Initiative Director Kathleen de Chadenèdes points out that this is because the county is ready to rise to the next level. “We’ll continue to work on professional development of school food decision makers throughout the county. Together, we can scale up and enhance the quality, economy, and educational opportunities of school food.”

Students receive hands-on instruction in new equipment that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of their work. Students receive hands-on instruction in new equipment that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of their work.

Along with providing regular onsite technical assistance from Chef Instructors, the School Food Initiative will also continue its twice-a-year convening of Food Service Directors to share best practices, new ideas, and information about new rules and regulations affecting school food. “These mini-conferences enhance the network of Food Service Directors, who have gotten much more comfortable sharing resources and information with each other. It can be as simple as ‘who has a good vendor for tortillas’ or as complicated as how to inspire and motivate a difficult coworker,” says de Chadenèdes.

Teamwork techniques also improve the day-to-day efficiency of school kitchens. Teamwork techniques practiced at Culinary Boot Camp also improve the day-to-day efficiency of school kitchens.

There may be a lot more to school food than what is on the tray, but not to the thousands of Santa Barbara County elementary school students who now have the option of nutritious, delicious, cooked-from-scratch meals instead of highly processed heat-and-serve products. Later this year, the Orfalea Foundation will post the Culinary Boot Camp lesson plans at www.SchoolFoodAction.org. The public is welcome to download the current Culinary Boot Camp Training Guide HERE.

We at the Orfalea Foundation are very proud of the 350 students who devoted their time, energy, and attention for the simple reason that they want to feed our children well. We at the Orfalea Foundation are very proud of the 350 students who offered their time, energy, and attention for the simple reason that they want to feed our children well.

For more information on the broad range of work undertaken by the School Food Initiative, please click HERE. And for the latest news on the School Food Initiative and other Orfalea Foundation projects , please subscribe to our online magazine, www.WholeChildAction.org.

Dean Zatkowsky is the Communications Manager for the Orfalea Foundation.

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