The blissful aroma of Chinese food is the first thing students and staff notice on Stir Fry Wednesdays at Dover-Eyota high school and middle school. Next, they notice the cool takeout containers with either rice or noodles and chicken or pork. And then they add vegetables and low-salt Asian sauces. Is this school lunch heaven? Nope, it’s Minnesota.
“The grill is set up right behind the serving line and we have multiple areas set up with vegetables…It’s in their culture to create a reimbursable meal,” says Carrie Frank, food and nutrition director, Dover-Eyota Schools in Minnesota, adding that her staff is behind the program’s success (80% participation) for this small district of about 1,200 students, and the latest new addition, stir-fry every week.
“I asked our cook what he would prepare if we purchased a countertop grill, and his response was stir-fry,” Frank says.
Next, Frank went through the checklist she uses for any new concept or menu item idea.
Students add their own veggies to rice or noodles with chicken or pork.
“Working with staff, our questions were: How often will it be offered? If weekly, which day works best? We considered product delivery days and possible added prep time due to hand-cutting fresh vegetables,” Frank says. “And we also looked at which commodity foods can be used, which local foods can be used, and how students can create a reimbursable meal.”
The best day turned out to be mid-week, and Stir Fry Wednesday will continue next school year, Frank says. And the pork—which arrives raw and is roasted in the kitchens—and chicken (pre-cut and cooked) are both commodities. Local veggies are rotated in when possible and connections with farmers are emphasized.
“An interesting thing about our farm-to-school program is that a farmer lives in the community and their family goes to the district, and other families work at the farm too, so there’s a lot of pride,” Frank says. “While in season, we purchase local peppers and onions for the stir-fry. And the diced chicken, rice, spaghetti noodles and other vegetables are commodities. Stir-fry is a great way to use both local products and commodity entitlement.”
Stir-fry has been a great way for Dover-Eyota schools to use both commodities and local ingredients, adjusting according to what’s available.
Signage at each station lets students know what to add to the grain and protein in the takeout boxes to create a reimbursable meal. From there, they can add veggies from hot wells and salad bars, a customization process Frank calls “controlled chaos.”
“Once they pick up their main entrée, they can go anywhere so it’s not a clear line system, but the kids know what to expect,” Frank says, adding that Stir Fry Wednesday is a hit with staff, too.
Another cool feature added recently is Local Thursdays, happening on the first Thursday of each month, with a build-your-own burger bar using hamburger patties from a local butcher and buns from a local bakery.
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