Thursday, July 1, 2010

Following Roosevelt's Advice to Rock Meals in Montana

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Theodore Roosevelt

Both these beautiful meals are wonderful examples of how creative, caring school nutrition professionals have learned to make the most out of what they have - out here on the frontier in Big Sky country, Montana! Both meals take advantage of commodities to keep costs low, while maximizing nutrition in every way possible. While neither lunch might meet every standard of nutrition perfection proposed by some critics of school meals, they are appealing, nutrient-rich, and popular with students. These are small, relatively-isolated Montana school nutrition programs doing amazing things with what they have, where they are. As one admirer put it, "If Ronan can do it, any district can!"

Some things are easier in schools with 800 to 1,000 students; others things are harder. Massive volume make some aspects of foodservice harder, but it also provides economies of scale. Having a relatively small kitchen means some items are easier to prepare from scratch, but being on an Indian reservation in northern Montana means that many ingredients are harder to obtain.

Here is what's in these meals:
  • Dana Brandt, Head Cook at Belgrade High School (800 students, 23% free/reduced), serves lean chicken breast (not breaded) on whole wheat rotini - topped with spaghetti sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese. She completes the menu with a fresh lettuce/spinach salad, fresh fruit mix, mixed veggies or carrot sticks, bread (garlic bread, whole wheat breadsticks, or whole wheat roll), and milk. The rotini, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, and whole wheat flour are all commodities to keep costs down - and the meal is very popular with teens!
  • Marsha Wartick, Food Service Director, in Ronan, Montana (1,200 students total, 63% free/reduced), knows how to serve healthful and popular options. The school is known for their whole wheat banana bread (recipe taught in Montana Team Nutrition Cooking Classes), fruit cups, and chicken quesadillas. According to Marsha: The best chicken is the commodity fajita, chopped into bite size pieces, along with commodity shredded cheddar cheese. We still use the white tortilla, however with wheat now available, this would be a good choice. Our kids tell us that this is one of their favorite meals - with a nice tossed salad, fresh fruit, whole grain rolls, and milk.

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