Maine Students Enjoy School Meals Made With Homemade Touch

Helping students in the school cafeteria feel like they’re eating mom’s homemade meals is an ongoing effort that York Schools Nutrition Department staff in Maine is very proud of. School cooks, menu planners and head chefs have worked tirelessly to provide menu options  – from scratch-made chicken pot pies to vegetarian sushi – that are made in-house with as many local ingredients as possible.

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Vegetarian sushi created by trained York School Nutrition Staff.

Six years ago, School Nutrition Director Whitney Thornton arrived in York, hopeful and excited to utilize the unique ideas and techniques learned from her years at culinary school. While the staff might have been hesitant to embrace the scratch-made approach in the beginning, Thornton said that staff have now embraced the idea and run with it.

Menu options are plentiful, with favorites among students and staff including scratch-made vegetarian or meat calzones, a variety of pizzas, shepherd’s pie, sausage and kale soup, chicken pad Thai and the popular daily smoothies and breakfast quiche.

Thornton also incorporated some fun ideas she cultivated during her time working in New Jersey schools. York now has a traveling chef who makes homemade pasta, sushi and made-to-order omelets for students.

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“I prepped sushi at each school and it grew so much that I had to work with my staff to teach them how to roll sushi,” she said. “There are many benefits with scratch-made food in our cafeterias – we can utilize our local farms, students get to try new things, parents and staff are pleased with the options available and students, parents and staff are happy to minimize processed foods. It’s not that we never serve them, because a good old chicken nugget day is still very popular, but we feel we can really appeal [to students] with home-cooked, comfort food.”

The district aims to introduce a new scratch-made recipe each month, which can be anything from entrees, dips, baked items, smoothies or even healthier versions of desserts. Staff make delicious locally sourced apple crumble (similar to apple crisp), serve black bean brownies and a plethora of scratch whole grain cakes.

In the fall, Thornton’s staff introduced “pumpkin power balls” at the high school to huge success. This February, they will be adding a new potpie; and in March, a variety of scratch-made soups and stews will be on the menu.

“For our harvest week in October, we did a full week of Maine scratch recipes. Students loved our zucchini fritters, pumpkin power balls, pumpkin mac and cheese and many more options,” said Thornton. “Being on the coast of southern Maine has many perks – we are proud to use local apples, blueberries, potatoes, fish and lobster (yes lobster) in our recipes.”

York staff utilized excess food from a school event that featured lobster and created scratch-made lobster rolls as a lunch option this fall. They even source local to add flavor to nutritious and healthy recipes, such as their roasted chicken, using a local Maine company, Denny Mike’s Sauces and Seasonings.

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