Lawn Avenue students go stir-fry crazy over special menus
“It has broccoli and green and red peppers,” the fifth-grader said.
Then he dug his fork into a big helping, which included brown rice, green onions and carrots, and gave the meal his highest recommendation.
“Amazing,” he said.
“That looks really good,” said classmate Donovan Martin.
The stir-fry was Herard’s second cooking demonstration in as many months. She presented her first-ever cafeteria demo on Jan. 16, and because her pork and vegetable stir-fry proved a big hit with both the children and staff, she brought the demo back last week.
“I thought the kids would enjoy something fun at lunch,” she said. According to Herard, the dish helps the children cultivate a taste for vegetables and introduces them to greens they may not have tasted before. One example is the Chinese cabbage, bok choy, which she said is probably new to many of the youngsters.
The focus on vegetables is due in part to a new federal law, according to Tom Hoagland, general manager for Aramark’s public school operations in Rhode Island. This is the second year that Aramark is the Jamestown School Department’s food-service provider.
Jamestown school menus meet the new government regulations, Hoagland noted in a report earlier this year, and that means the school district is due to collect 6 cents in federal reimbursements for every school lunch served.
This year, the federal reimbursements should be worth $3,144 for the period from October to June. To qualify, the food-service provider had to submit the menus to the state Department of Education for a certification. Hoagland anticipated approval would be in hand in January.
The reimbursements are linked to cutting calories and sodium intake, meeting regulations for whole grains, and increasing the fruits and vegetables in the children’s diet.
In addition, all the Aramark schools statewide are promoting vegetables with special menus that include locally grown farm produce. Later his month, for example, the children at the Melrose Avenue School are participating in a promotion that will introduce them to turnips, parsnips and sweet potatoes. In March, Aramark will launch another campaign. On the menu, said Herard, the children will find salads made from lettuce and other greens harvested at Nonquit Farm in Tiverton.
Herard said she would like to do one cooking demonstration a month. According to Hoagland, his company is receptive to the idea.
“We want to bring similar events to the schools throughout the rest of the year,” he said.
Brian and Donovan thought that would be a good start.
“They should probably make it like once a week,” Brian said.
“Three times a month,” Donovan added.
The stir-fry demonstration last week was a special event, said Herard. It wasn’t listed on the menu and was a welcome revelation to the Lawn Avenue students.
While many kids were happy with their surprise lunch, Herard said parents can find out about upcoming specials in the school’s weekly newsletter, The Warrior.
Also, sometimes the principal’s office will announce the meal in the morning.
Brian was tempted last month to try the stir-fry during Herard’s first visit, but he steered clear. He was happy that he got another chance to sample the rice, pork and vegetables.
“This time I ordered it,” he said. “She’ll let you sit there, and she’ll put in all the things and cook it. It’s really good. It tastes like something from home.”
He even thought he might be able to cook it himself at home based on all the information he picked up from the chef while she was fixing his plate.
Herard provided a fortune cookie for dessert. Brian’s fortune said, “You will find yourself in a position of dignity.”
Since Aramark won the contract last year to provide school lunches to the public schools in Jamestown, the cost of feeding children is running in the black even though food and labor costs are higher than before.
Herard, the company’s chef manager, has also been credited with building up the breakfast program at Lawn Avenue School. In October, the school served five breakfasts daily, and by December that number was up to 16.
The breakfast program is supported by federal reimbursements and contributes to the food service’s revenues.