Holding a paring knife, Glynn County Schools nutrition manager Georgie Futch slowly turned a tomato into a rose as she spun the fruit in her hand, practicing garnishing skills she learned Thursday at Georgia Southern University.
Dozens of school nutrition managers gathered recently for a series of classes in the GSU Hospitality, Tourism and Family Consumer Sciences kitchen to learn how to prepare healthier meals for students.
The school nutritionists were from Decatur, Jones, Newton, Baldwin, Hart, DeKalb, Lumpkin, Toombs, Troup, Glynn, Clayton, Dalton, Jackson and Bartow counties, GSU spokeswoman Betsy Nolen said.
“Many students in our state's public schools eat both breakfast and lunch at school, so the nutrition of these meals is vitally important,” she said.
The school nutrition managers worked with local chef Mike D’Angelo, who works at Forest Heights Country Club, as they learned how to cut salt, fat and sugar in their recipes, as well as cooking and presentation techniques that enhance flavor, she said.
Program directors Larry Stalcup and Rebecca Larson also taught the nutrition managers in about serving students with disabilities and diseases; how to make food more attractive to picky eaters, and how to make eating school breakfasts and lunches fun.
With 15 guests per class, Stalcup, who teaches hotel and hospitality management, and Larson, who is with the university’s Nutrition Department, each took turns discussing various topics with the groups.
New menu standards take place in July, and include increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables while slightly reducing meats and grains. Also, students only will be able to choose nonfat flavored milk with their meals, Larson said. Calorie limits will decrease, too.
“The obvious issue with this is cost. It’s going to cost a lot more,” she told the group, noting that budgets are an issue with the managers.
Other topics reviewed included work simplification, employee training, marketing, and special needs diets.
During the courses, “We tried to use as much local produce as possible,” she said.
While part of the group discussed nutrition issues, others put their hands to work in the kitchen as D’Angelo demonstrated fun ways to turn bananas into airplanes, bell peppers into frogs and tomatoes into roses.
Garnishes are important because “appearance is important,” Larson said. “Kids eat with their eyes. If they think something looks nasty, they won’t even try it.”
Adding cute figures made from food on the salad bars at school helps introduce new fruits and vegetables into the diet, she said.
Stalcup discussed offering samples to students during lunch or in the hallways as they change classes. Social marketing and posters help as well, he said.
As Futch and others tried their skills at transforming fresh fruits and vegetables into fun or glamorous garnishes, she spoke about the value of what they were learning.
“This is very helpful,” she said. “A lot of times we are so busy, we don’t even think about garnishes.”
The tomato rose “turned out very good,” she said. “It was a fairly simple thing to do. I think (students) see this and say, ‘Oh, I like that, I’m going to try it.’ A lot of times, things like this do help.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.