A conference with a focus on both professional and personal growth encouraged more than 350 attendees from ten Florida school districts to go ‘beyond the lunch lady’ with enhanced culinary skills, customer engagement and improved menus.
The First Annual Beyond the Lunch Lady North Florida Conference was held last week at Union High School in Lake Butler, FL. Sessions designed to spark creativity in foodservice included state and national guest speakers who focused on new menu development, kitchen safety, honing culinary cutting skills, planning for retirement, personal health and well-being.
“The ‘Beyond the Lunch Lady’ conference was organized to give school food service professionals some extra educational, professional and personal support to help them start the new school year on positive note: to provide the best for their students in school nutrition,” says Sue Tatum, conference organizer with Vinca Marketing & Communications.
Several school districts had the idea to pool their training resources from the USDA in order to have a bigger event with more impact, Tatum says.
Some great farm-to-table-inspired scratch recipes were developed by Chef David Bearl of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.
The participating food managers from each of the 10 school districts prepared from scratch nutritious, fresh and easy to prepare menu items for all the conference attendees. The menu items included: Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad; Pinto Bean Salad; Watermelon Salad; Squash Gallettes; Poached/Herb Infused Breast of Chicken; Corn Ratatouille, Roasted Garlic Mashed Cauliflower; Roasted Fingerling Potatoes from Hastings, Florida; and fresh Peach Blueberry Cobbler. Each of these tasty menu items is created to serve on a school menu.
"We have to get some basic food competencies and skills into the kitchen in order to add fresh ingredients to the recipes for better flavorful and healthfulness," Tatum says, adding that the recipes received a positive reaction. "It was such a pleasure to see all these individuals so excited about food."
Robin Safely, director of the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was on hand with an update of what the state has planned this coming school year for school food service.
Fred Schafer, school foodservice motivational speaker, was the keynote speaker, focusing on how school food service professionals can make the most of the ‘lunch lady’ role by learning new skills and taking care of themselves so they can serve their students even better.
"We engaged the philosophy that if they take care of themeselves, they can do their jobs so much better," Tatum says, adding that one session featured a wardrobe consultant who showed the audience how to dress in a professional but simple way.
Overall, "everyone felt that they took a lot away from this conference," Tatum says.
Recipes from Beyond the Lunch Lady:
YIELD: 50 servings
12 cups fresh corn kernels (frozen corn can be used)
3 red bell peppers, diced small
3 green bell peppers, diced small
12 stalks green onions, minced
6 oz. olive oil
4 pts. plum tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan (oven will do) and quickly sauté the vegetables. After the quick sauté fold in the plum tomatoes then season with salt and pepper. Serve either hot or cold. This can also be made with diced and sautéed zucchini, eggplant or other seasonal vegetables.
Poached/Herb-Infused Breast of Chicken
YIELD: 50 servings
50 chicken breasts
6 celery stalks, diced
1/2 bunch fresh parsley
4 bay leaves
8 oz. olive oil or margarine
4 onions, diced
4 carrots, diced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1 gallon chicken stock
1. In two separate four-inch insert pans add the oil and half of the onions, carrots and celery, place the pans in a 350° oven. Roast the vegetables until they start to caramelize.
2. Add half of the stock, chicken breasts and bay leaves to the pans. Tie the fresh herbs into two bundles and add them to the pans.
3. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Check temperature of the chicken breasts at 30 minutes to make sure you do not overcook them.