Scratch Cooking Student Meals

Summary: Based on feedback from students, their families, and Seattle cultural groups, the Culinary Services team is creating new, diverse student meals!

Culinary Services Comin’ in Hot

Upon entering Seattle World School, the first thing you notice is the smell of home cooking. Hints of exotic spices fill the air as the kitchen staff hurriedly prepares lunch for the incoming rush of students.

Although there were the typical offerings of chicken nuggets and fries, there also was a tarragon chicken salad sandwich next to a bean salad. The line of students wrapped around the cafeteria as they waited to choose their food.

The fanfare around Seattle Public Schools’ revamped lunch menus is not slowing down. After District Chef Emme Collins appeared on the cooking show “Chopped” (spoiler alert: she won) more people are starting to take notice of the SPS Culinary Services team.

Under the leadership of Aaron Smith, the director of Culinary Services, the team is elevating the palette of students across the district with new culturally diverse menus. Together, Smith, Collins, and his kitchen staff have found a way to celebrate the cultures found within Seattle.

Before the pandemic, Smith and his team collected feedback from the students, their families, and cultural groups around Seattle. They used the information to create new, diverse dishes that include tamales, duck spring rolls, and a chicken banh mi sandwich that has become popular among students. December’s menu is expected to feature a Cajun turkey and collard green soup.

“We want to hope that all students are willing to try different items that maybe they don’t see every day,” said Semhar Kifle, the cafeteria supervisor for the World School. “Some people might say, ‘Yum, collard greens, and … some kids may not know what that is at all, so we do try to spread it out across the different regions to make sure that everyone is getting a little bit of something.”

The district serves nearly 27,000 meals a day. To maintain the integrity of the ingredients, these made-from-scratch meals are prepared in small batches and only delivered to 10 sites at a time. Since the start of the school year, Chef Collins has created several new fresh dishes, with some being featured monthly on a district-produced show called “Taste SPS.” The November episode featured a coconut milk butternut squash soup made with local squash from a family farm on Whidbey Island.

Since the start of the pandemic, Culinary Services has worked nonstop – even setting up meal stops through holiday breaks – to keep food available for students. The World School is one of only a few schools in the country designed as a preliminary entry point for immigrant children. Cafeteria manager Elizebeth Bingham enjoys being able to provide the international students with a taste of home.

“[The students] like a lot of the hot meals – rice, teriyakis, different meals like that. Then our school makes sure we have those [items].” Bingham said. “I like being able to feed the kids and know that they are happy and satisfied.”

Footnote: A kink in the effort to provide hot meals is the supply chain issues that cafeterias across the nation are facing. Culinary Services is not immune to these issues but continues to work to provide students healthy, culturally diverse meals that incorporate scratch cooking. This sometimes requires menu adjustments in the form of substitutions and fewer choices. Read more about school meal adjustments.

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