Surprise. Surprise. Cooks don’t cook in public schools anymore. I mean I “knew” this going into an extensive tour of schools but I wasn’t prepared for how little the staff cooks in a school kitchen.
The cook’s best tool in a school kitchen is a box cutter. Yes. Boxes are delivered by the truckload, inventoried, loaded into the deep freezer and left for the day when the 3-week menu cycle comes up.
Those boxes are loaded out from the deep freeze to the fridge to thaw and then out to the kitchen they go for panning, baking or steaming and serving. Aluminum pans and parchment paper. Oh, and the box cutter. They are the only tools a cook needs.
Now the good news: kids in middle school and high school eat a lot of salads. And fruit. They drink a lot of milk. And all the bread they eat is 51% whole grain. This means that the flour used to bread the chicken nuggets or to form a bun is 51% whole grain. This includes corn so tortillas and chips are included.
Nothing is deep fried. At least not in the school kitchens themselves. Four years ago all the deep-fat oil fryers were removed from all 130 schools in the County. All potato products are baked. Except for the tater tots. Those have to be fried somewhere. I could be wrong but their crispy outsides sure did look crispy and fried.
Vegetables and fruits are mandatory. Calories are limited. Nutrient counts are precise. And all these things are good. As one cook put it, “No kid is getting fat off of school lunch.” And she’s right. There just aren’t enough calories to make this possible. So, parents are on the hook.
And as far as nutrition is concerned things are better. But there will never again be cooking in the County’s kitchens. The box cutter reigns. The stock pot is dead.