Spicing things up in the cafeteria

Serving more than 34,000 meals each day, the Anoka-Hennepin School District feeds more mouths than any area restaurant on a given day, easily.

But is the food any good?

Eighth-grade students at Coon Rapids Middle School are wild for walking tacos. Chef Supervisor Jeff Chounard said that students have already asked for the recipes of several new menu options.

Eighth-grade students at Coon Rapids Middle School are wild for walking tacos. Chef Supervisor Jeff Chounard said that students have already asked for the recipes of several new menu options.Photo by Olivia Koester

With brand new menu options across the district, students answered with a resounding “yes.”

“It’s really good,” said eighth-grader Joe Hill, as he stirred his walking taco, a bag of Doritos chips heaped with taco fixings, at lunch the first week of school.

The walking taco is one of 25 new recipes that have been added to the menu this year with the help of Jeff Chounard, the district’s chef supervisor, hired last year for his culinary expertise.

“The students were definitely ready for some change,” Chounard said. “That’s why they hired me, to bring new flavors ….”

Director of Child Nutrition Allison Bradford said that Chounard rounds out the staff, many of whom have management or nutrition backgrounds, but not necessarily vast culinary skills.

“You can’t always have the same old menu,” Bradford said.

The district’s menu had not changed much in the last few years, she said. “You need to spice it up and liven it up,” Bradford said.

Sometimes literally: “Kids have liked spicy foods for several years,” she said.

The new menu began taking shape last spring when students were able to sample a variety of offerings and give their honest opinions.

“They’ll tell you what they think in many colorful words,” Chounard said, laughing.

But, he appreciates students’ input. “I don’t want to put it on the menu if it’s not good or they don’t like it.”

One menu item students have devoured is the new mini cheese raviolis in rosa sauce. Most of the district’s 43 kitchens upped production for lunch Sept. 4, anticipating a popular entree, but all ran out or came close to running out, Chounard said.

Another popular change is new salad options.

“They’re flying out of the coolers,” Chounard said.

Balancing nutrition requirements and palatability is not too much of a challenge, according to Bradford. “There is some flexibility since we can meet the guidelines over a week’s time,” Bradford said.

Will new menu items stick around?
“As long as I’m here, no,” Chounard said. “They’re always new things to try.”

However, future changes to the menu will not be nearly as drastic as they were this year, he said.

Olivia Koester is at
olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

 
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