The Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) is joining the national effort to bring more nutritious meals to school cafeterias. Food service workers from area campuses will participate in a Culinary Boot Camp put on by the Orfalea Foundation at Santa Barbara Junior High from July 30 to August 3.

The rigorous weeklong course — designed and taught by chef instructors — is part of the Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative that is working to bring healthful lunch options to S.B. cafeterias. The foundation, which hosts many area education projects — including college scholarships for low-income youth and early-childhood education programs — was started 12 years ago by Kinko’s founder, Paul Orfalea, in Isla Vista. The first Culinary Boot Camp was held in 2008.

The camp curriculum includes both kitchen and classroom training. Instructors teach food staff how to make the transition from processed heat-and-serve meals to more healthful offerings that are cooked from scratch. Knife skills, sanitary food handing, menu planning, production efficiency, baking instruction, sauce production, time management, buying local, and ordering USDA commodities are just some of the topics that are covered at the camp.

“Culinary Boot Camp is the single most important resource we’ve experienced since turning to completely scratch-cooked meals,” said the district’s director of food services Nancy Weiss. “The chef educators are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, approachable, and welcoming. We’ve seen almost 100 percent of our culinary staff move through this extraordinary program and become a stronger department of food services because of the Orfalea Foundation’s dedication and generosity.”

The new meals are not only more nutritious but are also meant to appeal to kids’ taste buds in hopes that they form healthful eating habits that will continue into adulthood. Taco salad, stir-fry with brown rice, chicken fettuccine alfredo, and Brazilian tamales are some of the alternatives to the chicken nuggets, french fries, and chocolate milk that can be found on lunch trays across the country.

The multifaceted initiative also tackles other long-term aspects of the child obesity epidemic. “In addition to professional development for food service staff at Culinary Boot Camp, we also have projects devoted to food literacy, garden-based learning, public policy, equipment and infrastructure grants, and farm-to-school procurement relationships,” said the Orfalea Foundation’s school food director Kathleen de Chadenédes.

The Orfalea team led a similar camp with the Santa Maria Bonita School District staff in June, and they are scheduled to conduct another such camp at Lompoc’s Central Kitchen from August 6-10.


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