Increasing the use of fresh, whole foods in K-12 school nutrition programs through culinary training for school food service professionals
Stephens, Lacy Nicole
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The purpose of this research is to develop and evaluate a hands-on culinary skills class for school food service professionals, the Montana Cook Fresh Workshop, aimed at increasing the use of whole, fresh foods in K-12 school nutrition programs. The literature indicates that scratch cooking with whole, fresh foods can help school nutrition programs meet USDA meal standards while creating healthier, more appealing meals for students. However, limited peer reviewed information exists regarding the best training approaches to provide school nutrition professionals with the necessary skills to integrate scratch cooking. To inform the development of the class, 103 Montana school food service managers and head cooks were surveyed and 12 key informants were interviewed. This formative research identified key skills and approaches necessary to integrate whole, fresh foods in school nutrition programs and specific areas to target with training. From this research, the Montana Cook Fresh Workshop was developed to address four main culinary concepts: knife skills, mise en place, use of herbs and spices, and appropriate equipment. Outcomes of the workshop were evaluated based on participant satisfaction and changes in participants' whole, fresh foods (a) cooking knowledge, (b) confidence, (c) attitude, and (d) intention to use. Participant satisfaction was evaluated with a Likert scale questionnaire and series of open-ended questions. Researchers used a pre-test/post-test design to assess participants' knowledge, confidence, attitudes, and intentions regarding whole, fresh food. For each statement assessing participant satisfaction, 96-100 percent of participants selected 'agree' or 'strongly agree,' indicating high levels of participant satisfaction. From pre to post test, participants' knowledge, confidence, and intentions to use whole, fresh food increased significantly. Attitude did not change significantly. The success and appeal of the Montana Cook Fresh Workshop supports the use of hands-on classes to address training needs of school food service professionals and overcome barriers to using whole, fresh food. With the ability to use more whole foods, K-12 school food service programs have the opportunity to offer more appealing meals that meet USDA guidelines and promote healthy food choices.