Franklin Special School District is preparing to cook up something new as one of the five districts across the nation to be selected for the Chef Ann Foundation’s fourth round of the Get Schools Cooking program.
This three-year grant program focuses on improving school districts’ food services to include more meals cooked from scratch and becoming more sustainably run by assessing what it deems the “five key areas of school food operations”: food, finance, facilities, human resources and marketing. FSSD is the first district in Tennessee to be chosen for this program.
“We’re very excited because … as a small district, we do not have the staffing that a large district does. We don’t have the ability to have a chef and that kind of thing, so this is great,” said Robbin Cross, child nutrition supervisor at FSSD. “To have somebody come in and just look at your program and evaluate it and give you some recommendations is huge for us.”
Next week, Cross will fly to Boulder, Colorado with Marné Price, FSSD child nutrition department bookkeeper, to begin the program at a workshop.
Over the next year and a half, program coordinators will assess the district’s food operations and provide recommendations for change. For the following year and a half, in addition to annual assessments, the program will continue to support FSSD through recommendations and planning, as well as $35,000 for software and equipment purchases.
“This is an opportunity for districts to take a deep dive into all of their processes, programs, finances and management, with the goal of overall improvement of their system,” said Ann Cooper, CAF founder and board president. “Get Schools Cooking can transform a district and set them on the path towards a fully scratch-cook program.”
Cross said she and her team are open to whatever the CAF recommends, and she is excited to incorporate more scratch cooking into her program.
“We do a lot of speed-scratch cooking,” she said. “At home, when you bake a cake and you use a box mix, that’s not scratch cooking. That’s speed scratch. When I fix taco meat for my family at night, if I use a package of taco seasoning, I am not making scratch tacos. I am making speed-scratch tacos.”
She explained some recipes the district uses, such as meatloaf, are made completely from scratch, and others, such as “chicken smackers,” come pre-made, though FSSD focuses on providing entrees with quality ingredients, such as whole-muscle chicken in the case of the “smackers.”
Cross emphasized the district serves nutritious food already, and her focus is making sure the food gets into children’s bellies, not in the trash, so she doesn’t plan on eliminating favorites like those chicken smackers just because they’re not made from scratch.
“We want to increase the quality that we are serving the children, but we want to make sure it’s something that they want to eat and they want to enjoy,” she said.
Because the ultimate goal is to nourish students, one of the ways the CAF suggests ensuring success is by educating students on new foods as the district explores different options.
“We encourage districts to test a new menu item or new recipe and taste it out to students,” said Emily Gallivan, director of programs at the CAF. “It allows for cafeteria staff and the food service team to get feedback on that recipe to improve it. … It gives students the opportunity to try something and interact with the food service staff and feel like they have a say in what’s being served. It also encourages students that maybe aren’t typically buying school lunch to try something and be encouraged to purchase school lunch.”
By encouraging scratch-cooked meals, the program focuses on improving ingredient quality, not necessarily on eliminating food categories, Gallivan explained, though it does recommend doing away with flavored milk and packaged a la carte items, such as chips, cookies and muffins.
She also said the program seeks to cater to the diversity within student populations, something FSSD leaders have taken great pride in. In September, David Snowden, FSSD director of schools, reported the racial breakdown of the district is 52% white, 25% Hispanic and Latino, 15% African American, 7% Asian and 1% other, and 32 languages are spoken amongst the student body.
As it stands, the FSSD menu features some cultural diversity with dishes such as chicken fajitas, General Tso chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and meatball subs. The Get Schools Cooking program also provides a long list of diverse, USDA-approved recipes through thelunchbox.org, featuring American classics such as meatloaf, burgers and barbecue pork sandwiches, alongside dishes from around the world, including tikka masala, Mediterranean couscous and pico de gallo.
Cross expects to receive a preliminary batch of recommendations from the program in May, and she plans to implement some of those changes in the fall.
“The ultimate goal is for our students to have healthy options with fresh, locally grown food prepared in our own kitchens by a knowledgeable staff,” she said. “We know the Chef Ann Foundation will help us achieve this goal.”