Cathy Powers Introduces an Exciting Resource for K-12 Recipes

Full Transcript

Dalia 

Thank you so much for coming on.

 

Cathy Powers 

Oh, my pleasure, Dalia.

 

Dalia 

I'm really excited to talk about your new resource healthy school recipes. Before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be a nutrition expert working in school nutrition?

 

Cathy Powers 

Well, that's a long story. I've been at it for a long time. I started my career, developing the nutrition education program at the Culinary Institute of America, and I was the first Registered Dietitian hired there. That was really a great opportunity for me to begin to blend the food with the nutrition world. It was there that I realized that we don't eat nutrients, we eat food.  I was very fortunate to develop that background. In the mid-90s, I had the opportunity to work with the National Food Service Management Institute, which is now the Institute of Child Nutrition, and had met Dr. Josephine Martin. In the mid-90s, the Culinary Institute of America, the CIA, and the Institute, started working together on developing culinary skills education programs for the school nutrition community. I've been interested in bringing Culinary skills to school nutrition. I guess it's been over 20 years now. That really is my life passion. I have always believed that school food really is just food, and that we need to look at the school nutrition dining environment, more like a restaurant, than a retail outlet where we just pass food through. So I've been working on creating really a more culinary culture in school nutrition.

 

Dalia

I didn't realize you'd been focused on that for so long. That's really unique. A lot of people who have realized that that is missing in the school nutrition environment and are focusing on the culinary aspect now, they certainly haven't been doing it for almost the entire span of their career. When you went into dietetics, were you already interested in culinary?

 

Cathy Powers 

Well, I would say that I was certainly interested in food. Both my parents were in the food business. My mother was a Registered Dietitian. She's retired now, and my father was in the food business. So I've always had a love of food and hospitality.  I love dietetics because of the more science approach and so went into dietetics, but then my master's is in restaurant hotel institutional management. So from very started my career, I've always tried to blend the food and the nutrition.

 

Dalia 

My focus in undergrad was so heavy on the science, that that was one of the more challenging aspects for me of the RD exam was like reasons that a cake my fall, questions like that were a real hurdle for me. I'm like, oh, there's like a million reasons. Even though we took a couple of food science classes, somehow I graduated feeling like, I really didn't know how to help clients modify the way that they cook to meet their dietary needs.  I could tell them, these are your limitations, I could guide them as far as what particular ingredients to avoid, but then I wouldn't be able to tell them, if you eliminate that ingredient, here's something else that has the same functional properties. So I've got a lot of gaps in my education as far as how to help the people who are on our staff, testing things in the kitchen, how to help them modify their recipes, and not lose taste, and not lose functionality. You don't want weird mouth feel, and there's some things that you lose when you kind of bunch of fat. So yeah, I was so excited to see healthy school recipes. I mean, of course, I still want to learn these things, but in the meantime, I would love to have a resource that can save time, save money, improve the quality of the foods that we serve, just like your website says. Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution of this resource?

 

Cathy Powers 

Oh, sure. Actually, even though we just launched in March of this year, I had bought the domain name in 2011. This was an idea I had then, and I saw schools, shifting more towards school made foods. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in the nutrition standards that came out of that really spurred schools to look to more school made items, particularly for reducing sodium. We know that sodium is found in processed foods and if we want to reduce sodium, you need to go more towards homemade or scratch cooking.  As people were going more towards school made or scratch cooking, there really wasn't a lot of resources, or they weren't easy to find. There were a number of online cookbooks from different organizations or different state organizations, Departments of Education, but you had to know where they were, and then you had to go to each one. I would often think, oh, you know, there was a good recipe for a ranch salad dressing, now, where did I see that? Was it in this one, or was it in this one? It was at that time that I thought it would be great to pull all of the recipes that are out there together. Now couple that with the interest in food that was spurred by the TV shows, celebrity chefs and so forth. We have a generation that is more interested in experimenting more interested in new flavor profiles. We have a generation now that is more ethnically diverse than any other generation, we have students who are excited about potentially trying new things, restaurants, and quick service are becoming more interesting. There's a whole lot going on in the food industry. We see lots of schools that are doing fabulous, fabulous things. The idea now is if we can all share from all of those resources that have been tried and tested from schools that are doing great things with their menus and have developed great recipes, it's just a perfect time to be sharing these.

 

Dalia

Yeah, excellent. I really see more and more everybody relying on the internet for their information, because things change so rapidly sometimes when you have a print resource, it's still going to be useful to an extent that you know, it can't change over time. It's going to be great to have everything in one place. If the regs shift again, then of course, everything can be updated again. So that's reassuring like knowing that everything is current.

 

Cathy Powers 

Our vision is to have thousands and thousands of school nutrition recipes that have the nutrient data that have the crediting, that are in large quantities, to have these in one place, so that people can comment on them, kind of like the popular consumer recipe sites that you go to. You read the comments. You look, and say oh I want macaroni and cheese. Well, which of the 10 am I going to use? Well, this one, is five star and it says that the kids love it and it's easy to prepare. Eventually, I hope that there are thousands of recipes and I hope that there's lots of comments and feedback as well.

 

Dalia 

I love that idea. That's something that I know I use if I go to allrecipes. I'm looking for things that are going to give me a foolproof result. Like I know a ton of people have tried it, and you can see what substitutions may be actually have worked for people. It's like crowdsourcing standardizing a recipe. I love that idea.

 

Cathy Powers 

This is going to be the allrecipes.com for school recipes.

 

Dalia

Awesome. It looks like you have other educational elements too. Is the chef has the only person doing the blog or the blog is you and the chef?

 

Cathy Powers 

Well, we've been clear that our mission is recipes, we want to stay focused on the recipe element. We also have opportunity because there's lots to share and lots to say, we have a section called In the Kitchen. In the Kitchen we do a blog post, we have tips from the chef, we have some video clips, we have asked Chef Samantha, myself, and we have other folks who are contributing articles as well. It's mostly Chef Samantha and myself. We really do hope that this is a place where others can share how to videos where we can share different features. We also have a section called behind the line. One of the things I've realized about school nutrition professionals is that they're always curious about how others are doing something and they love seeing what's going on in other schools. In the behind the line feature, we take a look at different school districts and see what's going on in their kitchen.

 

Dalia   

That is true, we are definitely very interested in what other people are doing. It's funny, there's such a collaborative atmosphere because we are not in competition with each other. It really is like we're one big national team. That transparency is there, you don't really see that in other fields as much, because the people who are coming up with best practices that you would like to emulate are your competition, and they're not trying to share that or least not for free.

 

Cathy Powers 

So, exactly on top of that, the better each school nutrition program looks, the better everyone looks. So if we're able to raise the bar everywhere, then we all look better.

 

Dalia 

Yeah, definitely true. So much of the negative press that we get, it doesn't matter if it's not related to your district, you can feel the ripple effect whenever anything negative is in the news or floating around online. So definitely true. Now, when you say that we really should be looking to shift the cafeteria to just being aware that it's a restaurant not just  a place you pass through, what are some other elements that you think are missing to make that happen? Is it just the quality of the food? Is it the atmosphere to or what are some other things we need to be thinking about?

 

Cathy Powers 

Well, I often suggest that nutrition professionals look at what's going on in their community restaurants.  What do they look like? What are they serving? How are they bringing in their guests? Obviously, in school nutrition, it's not just about the food, as much as I love the food aspect, it's not just about the food, but also about the dining environment. We need to shift from a cafeteria, to a dining facility. There's been lots of transformation across the country with that. When I was in elementary school, probably even all the way through high school, you went to the cafeteria, and you were in a line and you filed out in that line and you sat beside the person, you were in the line with at these long tables. I know it's easy to have the same kind of tables. I know it's easy to have them so that you can just set them back up. You can you know, move them around and then after the event, set them back down. But I love when I see dining rooms that have round tables, and have banquettes, high tops and have couches and you know have various seating so that students can gather with their friends and really have the opportunity for the meal to be a social time, not just a time to get them in and get them out. We also need options for serving that allows us to move the students through quickly, hence the hotline, the grabbing goes and the reimbursable vending. Meet the students where they are. Their time is limited enough. We need to figure out how to move them through so that they can get into those seats and enjoy the time with their friends.

 

Dalia

We're in a CEP district. Essentially, when kids come through, they aren't obligated to pay. So sometimes I feel like people think oh, well, we have no competition, because free, no one else is giving food away for free. But I think that free time to socialize with their friends is so important to them, that if the line is super long, you know, socializing is competition. Some kids would rather not eat and go hang out in the gym so that they can actually spend time with their friends. I think that is really important to think about the fact that eating is a social activity. If you have not set up your cafeteria with that in mind, that could be an obstacle that can affect your participation. That really makes sense.

 

Cathy Powers 

There's lots of solutions that we're seeing schools around the country using, food trucks and kiosks, taking the food carts to where the students are. If it's breakfast, taking it into the hallways taking it as they're getting off the bus. You have to go where the students are.

 

Dalia 

I think we're starting to get it. You're right, people are making changes all over the country. One thing I wanted to ask about the website that I already noticed is unique. On other websites you don't see any mention of HACCP, and that is extremely helpful. What made you include that?

 

Cathy Powers

Well, it's a fundamental part of a school nutrition recipe. Recipes are interesting. We think we know recipes, because my mom had recipes, my grandma had recipes. You know, we all have recipe collections. School nutrition recipes really are quite different. In addition to being a larger quantity, you know, some schools are serving thousands and thousands of students, if you're in a district with 100,000 students, and you have a central kitchen, you know, you're making recently who large patches of food. So in addition to the quantity, school recipe also has to have critical control points so that we ensure that the food is safe, from the moment it hits the back dock to the moment it served to to the students. School recipes also have to be credited so that we know that it meets the standards that are set by USDA that if it has a two ounce equivalent of meat that the recipe indicates that that it meets the half cup of vegetable and so on and so forth. Yes,

 

Dalia 

Absolutely. Yeah, I think that is the thing that we think we're familiar because we use that same term to refer to home cooking recipes that honestly people don't even follow to the letter, the concept of standard this has been, it's a challenge as an ongoing challenge sometimes with staff because people are excellent home cooks, and they do things to enhance the recipe and of like, okay, but now, you've completely changed it, the calories are off, and now have we're not protecting kids with allergies as the way we're supposed to be, really, this recipe must be followed to the letter, it's not like a home recipe, which is more like a suggestion.

 

Cathy Powers 

That's a good point. And that's a good point. That said, I also believe that every recipe needs to be standardized to each operation. So you know, my ovens may be different than your offense or, you know, I might do something in tilt scale it, you might not have a tilt scale and have to do it in an oven, or steam jacketed kettle. So recipes. Standardized recipes are important. But they then have to be standardized for the operation. One of my favorite recipes, from the website is buffalo cauliflower, with his roasted cauliflower with the buffalo sauce, super simple. Some people might take that recipe and say, Oh, this is perfect. Others may say, you know, my kids like it spicy, or I'm going to need to put a little bit more hot sauce. Somebody else may say, you know, my elementary students just wouldn't take it this spicy, I need to tone it down. Right? So they have to be standardized according to your equipment, according to the ingredients that you get in and according to your students taste.

 

Dalia 

Right. That makes sense. So

 

Cathy Powers 

If you're if you have a school that is wanting to adjust, work with them to standardize the operation, to standardize the recipe for their operations, right.

 

Dalia 

Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And that that is probably a better answer than just No, you can't do that as we can do this, but in a certain way. And it's going to be controlled, and we're taking your input, but we have to, you know, be strategic about this. Yeah,

 

Cathy Powers 

We can't ad hoc the recipe, right? But you can standardize it for your district and make adjustments. But you're right, it has to be recorded, we have to take note. And it has to be more of a process than just an ad hoc. Right.

 

Dalia 

And I've had some people who are more on board with that than others, you know, some sound people will lose interest once they realize it's a process but other people.

 

Cathy Powers 

Yeah, I understand.

 

Dalia 

Some of these recipes are really, I'm excited about testing me. So what if you don't want to start out with this large quantity? Because you just want to test it and see how it goes over at a small site? Do you just apply standard culinary math rules? And you can do it and a smaller kitchen? Or would you say you probably should start out with the number of servings as written here.

 

Cathy Powers 

Most of the recipes on our website are for 50 or 100 servings. That's just that's been our general rule. Some will be for 48, because that's how much a sheet pan would make. But typically, other 50 or 100 hundred. And my experience, you can have a recipe or you can double a recipe without great changes. More than that, and you might need to adjust seasonings, you might need to adjust an oil you might use for Sartain, so there will be adjustments as you go up or as you go down. But generally, you can have or double a recipe without too many problems. I think if you're testing a recipe just in the kitchen, this is how you like it, having the recipe is fine. If you're testing it with your students, she might want to double the recipe to do a taste test with your students. Okay,

 

Dalia 

That's a really good tip. And I'm trying to think of what else I wanted to cover. There's just so much this is going be a very popular resource. This is I'm very excited about this. So what is the best way for us to keep up with what's been added to www.healthyschoolrecipes.com

 

Cathy Powers

Where folks can sign up for our newsletter. Every month, we put out a newsletter, where we have timely information. We have calendar of upcoming events, we feature recipes from the website, we go in depth with some of our favorite resources. So the newsletter is a great way to keep up. But I also want to encourage everyone to contribute recipes. That really is what's going to drive the value of this resource. And I think everybody out there has favorite recipes that they would love to see schools around the country. Preparing, so please. If you have recipes, submit them either on the site or send them to us through Facebook or email. That really, I think what making the website fun I love to see the recipes from different districts and we've had a lot of school districts share recipes. Joe urban from Greenville County Public Schools, we have recipes from Spartans Burke, from Minneapolis Public Schools from San Diego Unified School District from Raymond when rain Raymond Windham district in Maine. So we have recipes from schools, Maine, all the way to California. So I think that's really what's fun. I love to see the recipes from school districts around the country.

 

Dalia 

And like you said, the generation that we're serving is way more open to eating beyond the region that they live in than previous generations. So it's exciting the idea of being able to introduce dishes to kids that come from different parts of the country that maybe they wouldn't have had a chance to try otherwise. But at the same time, it's starting to get to the point where it's hard to tell, it's hard to say what is really regional anymore. Because there is so much sharing.

 

Cathy Powers 

You know, Dalia, you bring up a good point, and I want to reiterate the our students are becoming more adventuresome, we know that without doubt, often though, we are not as adventurous summarize, and I see sometimes that our personal likes and dislikes are influencing what we put on the menu. I've heard many times, people say, well, our students won't like that. And really what they mean is, I don't like that. So I don't think our students will like that. And I do I do that myself. You know, I'm not a super fan of eggplant. So I don't think I ever cooked a point play out for my boys. And I'm not sure that I put eggplant on a school menu, because I don't like eggplant. Right? I think we need to get over that. So that our personal likes and dislikes don't influence what we're  offering to the students because they really are way more adventurous. And let me give them credit for right.

 

Dalia 

That's a really important point take and for people to question themselves when they're saying, Oh, well, the kids don't like you don't even want to try. Where's that really coming from? Is that your preference? Or is that outdated data, even like maybe you didn't try it a long time ago, but those kids have graduated is a different group. Maybe they're different. It's been funny, there was I've definitely seen that happening and in person. And people being really surprised when a small child wants to eat raw vegetables. So we had people saying they wanted the pre k menu to be more kid friendly. And what they meant was like, restaurant kid food, but there really is no such thing as kid food. That is something we have made up as long as it's not choking hazard. It's just food. I mean, they can. I don't know why people have kind of fallen into believing that so much like, oh, it needs to fit perfectly until their little hand and our preschoolers are lucky in that they have a lot of time to eat. And my goodness, do they take forever to eat. But it doesn't matter if it doesn't fit perfectly into their hands, they have the time to work it out. And that's one of the skills they're building is like their dexterity. And there's no such thing as kid food, really. But I do hear a lot of resistance. Sometimes when I'm trying to offer I guess grown out to these kids, as they do fine with it. They just take a really long time to eat it.

 

Cathy Powers 

And their adventure, some I hate kids menus on restaurants, you know, especially you go to a seafood restaurant. And the kids menu is, you know, hot dogs. Really? Why are we doing that?

 

Dalia 

It's more like the picky eaters menu, because they should just rename it. Yes, I've seen. I've seen adults go to see food restaurants and be like, I just get to get the chicken tenders make you and they use the kids go again. And they're like, I want monster. So it really is just something we've made up and we need to throw that logic out the window. So, exactly. I'm so grateful for this resource. I think people are going to love it. Where else are you going to be promoting it? Where can we expect to see you guys in the future? Any conference circuit planned or?

 

Cathy Powers 

Well, both Chef Samantha and I do a lot of public speaking, we do a lot of training. That's the work I do mostly now is culinary skills training or, or training for school nutrition professionals. So I'm all around the country training. So we'll be promoting it. But we also are very active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Awesome,

 

Dalia 

Great, I see all those links are on this site. So if everybody visits the site, you can link to all the social outlets.

 

Cathy Powers 

And I think the best promotion now is when  people discover the site that they share with their colleagues. And we see that happening. I know that the Georgia Department of Education has us listed as a resource on their website, Indiana School Nutrition Association has us listed as a resource on their website. So we see that they departments of education and State School Nutrition Association that are lifting up those resources on their website. So we're starting to get the word out.

 

Dalia 

Awesome. I think that really speaks to the fact that people recognize this is something we've all been needing. So when it comes to teaching culinary skills, I know some people maybe feel a little hopeless about improving, do you think it is possible for everyone to become proficient in the kitchen if they just start practicing and really doing the work?

 

Cathy Powers 

No question. Absolutely. And I think that school nutrition professionals want to do that. People when they're serving lunch, or when they're serving food to anyone, they want to be proud of what they're serving. I couldn't imagine serving something that I wasn't really proud. That doesn't feel great. You know, when you invite somebody in your home, and you serve them a meal, you want to feel proud of the foods you're serving, and school nutrition professionals want to feel the same. And when you have made something that you're really proud of. It's exciting to serve that to the students. So I think I think everybody has the ability, with the right training to really transform school nutrition.

 

Dalia 

Wonderful. Thank you so much Cathy for coming on. I really appreciate it.

 

Cathy Powers

Oh, my pleasure, Dalia. Thanks for having me. And thanks for promoting www.healthyschoolrecipes.com