The USDA, particularly through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, has worked to enhance and standardize the nutritional criteria that school foodservice operators have to work with when preparing meals for children. Christian has seen this firsthand.
Scratch cooking is, and must, according to some of these new standards, make a comeback to the institutional K-12 kitchen, Christian says. And, despite the difficulties, it can be done. For the Bureau Valley School District (1,223-students in five schools) in Bureau Valley, Ill., 50 hours of sustainability and scratch-cooking training has led to enhanced knife skills, more diverse menus, improved ordering, storage, processing and shipping to satellites and reduced waste from unnecessary single-portion servings.
Simply by cutting down on the number of entrées served at one time, the kitchen has saved two and a half hours of labor per day; this saved time goes back to cooking from scratch. The school district was able to save $500 in equipment and labor costs simply by cooking in bulk rather than re- and pre-packaging food in individually wrapped containers. Buying in bulk has helped the district as well; 89 percent of its condiments now come in that way.
Christian has taught the formerly "heat and serve" kitchen staff to prepare stir-fry-style vegetables using convection ovens, braise their own meats in combi ovens and steamers and blast chill lasagna prepared using homemade tomato sauce, vegetables from local farms and meat from sustainably raised, grass-fed beef. "When you cook from scratch, you have more control over the ingredients you want to use," Christian says.
Christian's school clients prepare and freeze soups, sauces and stocks, and they can prepare vegetables at the height of the season in the summertime, a few weeks before the school year begins, for use months down the line.
Better, and even centralized, cook-chill systems, freezers and cooler space will become the norm for sustainable foodservice at these schools, according to Reitano. "Schools used to complain that they didn't want our satellite food crap, and I have to say I think they're often right," says Reitano. "But with the type of blast chillers on the market these days, it's easier to produce fresher food."
The United Nations Population Fund predicts that the global population will peak at about 9.1 billion by 2050. This means there will be 2 to 3 billion more people on earth than there are today.
Since the mid-2000s and picking up in the last couple years, many of us have had ongoing, complex discussions about what sustainability means to our society, our food system and our industry.
We've spent years talking about and analyzing different pieces of the puzzle: LEED and green building, energy efficiency, water reduction, waste management and support for smaller, local farms, businesses and economies. Source Energy Star-rated foodservice equipment. Turn equipment off when you're not using it. Install aerators and low-flow, prerinse spray valves. Look into EMS, energy audits, composting, better controls, better training, LED lamps. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Shop at farmer's markets and produce auctions. Cut down on plastic and packaging.
After all these years, the time has come to put those pieces of the puzzle together to know, understand and believe in the why of it all. This will shape our business, our equipment, our kitchens — and our planet — of the future.