As Jarrod McCarthy walks through the halls of Old Trail School on a recent sunny morning, it seems like every single child he passes has a “Hi, Chef!” or a high-five for him.
McCarthy, the general manager, Metz Culinary Management, at the K-8 school in Bath, OH, has been getting to know the kids since he started last July and helping them get to know some new, healthy foods at the same time.
With a focus on “fresh and local,” McCarthy has brought bok choy, squash, sweet potatoes, blood oranges, quinoa, couscous and more into the lunchtime lineup. With kids, he has found, trying new foods “is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“The first time I served them beets, a lot of the kids looked at me like I was crazy,” he recalls, “but they're loving beets now. I'm getting them to trust me.”
Lunchtime at the school often includes a stir-fry station that's very popular. Ratatouille (chocked full of veggies, or course) has been a big hit. Other kid favorites include Teriyaki chicken, a turkey melt, and carrot-orange-ginger soup.
There is no deep frying done in the kitchen at all, so McCarthy developed a baked chicken finger method and recipe that has become a staple for other Metz Culinary Management operations. There are a number of kids at the school with egg allergies as well, so he had to find a way around the traditional egg wash procedure for getting crunchy breading to stick to the chicken, and also another way to get the golden brown color that comes from eggs.
“Our kids love ketchup on these, so we put out BBQ sauce and ketchup and there is also ranch on the salad bar,” McCarthy adds.
Pulse pretzels in a food processor to create a super crunchy consistency. Combine the pretzels in a 2:1 ratio with panko breadcrumbs. Toast the breadcrumbs in a 350°F oven until golden; let cool.
To make the recipe egg-free, a traditional eggwash is eliminated. Instead, use olive oil to coat the fingers, creating a good surface on the raw chicken for the breading to stick to. Next, dredge the chicken fingers in the pretzel mixture.
Now, the chicken fingers go into a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes.
The chicken comes out looking golden brown and it's ready to serve with your favorite dipping sauces.
As kids come down the line, a chicken finger is part of a very healthy and flavorful lunch. Along with kid-favorites ketchup and ranch, McCarthy has started setting out Sriracha hot sauce for the most adventurous 7th- and 8th-graders. “Some are starting to like the spicy stuff,” he says. For the full recipe, go to http://tinyurl.com/buqqkqv