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Cafeteria supervisor hopes to lure students back to the dining hall with new menu

By Carol McIntire

Carrollton school cafeteria
Carrollton High School Cafeteria Supervisor Barbara Burns demonstrates the use of a new Slushie machine in the school cafeteria.

Carrollton Schools Cafeteria Supervisor Barbara Burns has some good news for students: prepackaged meals will be missing from the menu this year!

Instead, the supervisor, who began her duties June 1, said there will be healthy food baked in ovens in the school cafeteria served to students.

“We plan to do a lot more on-site preparation,” Burns said last week while preparing for the opening day of school. “Students will go through the line and make their selections. They won’t be handed a pre-packaged meal that was heated up in an oven.”

During the brief time she has been employed in the district, Burns has been busy searching for equipment that was removed from the cafeteria, purchasing new equipment, including a walk-in freezer and creating a menu that meets dietary guidelines and still tempt the taste buds of students.

She had to be creative and draw upon every bit of culinary experience she had to accomplish her goals prior to the opening day of school – Aug. 21.

“When the pre-packaged meals left, so did the ovens the food was heated in,” she said. “I had to put four kitchens (Carrollton, Bell-Herron, Augusta and Dellroy) back together in a hurry.”

She found two convection ovens previously used in the high school cafeteria in the former Willis School, had them checked (luckily they worked) and reinstalled in the cafeteria. Since stoves and hoods were removed from kitchens in outlying school buildings, Burns was faced with the task of replacing them with something that wasn’t going to break the bank.

“The hoods for stoves were grandfathered in under code, but once they were removed the grandfather clause was gone. We couldn’t afford to install $10,000 hoods for stoves, so I found an induction cook top stove that doesn’t require a hood for a reasonable price. It will do everything we need to do,” she said.

Excitement rings in her voice when she talks about the new oven purchased for the high school cafeteria.

Not only can the oven bake 20 pizzas (180 servings) in 10-12 minutes, it can bake 10 large pasta pans in 40 minutes.

“This is wonderful,” she said opening the door to display the racks inside. “When the pizza is done baking, it can be moved to the warming oven and another 20 pizzas can be baked.”

Giving credit to Facebook for circulating a variety of recipes, she explained a new popular way to bake pasta that she said, “really works.”

“You mix the pasta, water and sauce in a pan, put the pan in the oven and it bakes together: no cooking the pasta before hand. I’ve worked with this type of oven before and know it works. You can also do this at home, so that is home cooking,” she said with a laugh. “We can make mac and cheese the same way.”

She hopes to bring students back to the cafeteria line by tempting their senses of smell and taste as well as with eye appeal.

“We are going to make our own sauce and when it bakes, the smell that travels down the halls of the school will be tempting. Taste is another big thing. If they smell the food, try it and like the taste, they will be back.”

Presentation of food is also high on Burns’ list of priorities.

“You have to present the food in a way that is appealing to the students. If they like what they see, they will try it.”

As a nutritionist and registered dietician, Burns knows all about daily requirements and healthy eating.

“Much of my career has been spent either feeding somebody from a kitchen or in a clinical setting,” she noted. Her most recent position was in Tuscarawas County in the public health field with an emphasis on wellness and school nutrition.

She also spent time working with the Ohio Department of Health in food service inspection. “With that experience, it has been an easy transition to this position,” she explained. “I know what works.”

One look at the August cafeteria menu provides a clear message of change.

The first week of school, elementary and Bell-Herron students will have the opportunity to try Big Daddy’s Pepperoni Pizza or a Warrior Sub as the entrée; a fresh tossed green salad and chilled peach cup and milk. Another day, students have their choice of a Chicken Ranch Wrap or a Hot Honey Mustard Ham and Cheese Sandwich with cucumbers and tomatoes and a fresh banana.

High school students have their own menu that includes fresh entrée salads, something Burns said has been requested. Students have a choice of the daily entrée, a variety of side dishes and the salads. 

A new slushie machine available to Bell-Herron and high school students has been “the talk of the school” since it was installed.

“I’ve been providing samples to janitors and other school employees and it has been getting great reviews,” according to Burns. A four-ounce slushie is equal to one-half cup serving as part of a school meal.

After a hiatus of several years, high school students can once again visit the Snack Shack in the high school lobby. Offerings include a grab-n-go entrée salad or hot/cold sandwiches, side dishes and milk. The Snack Shack will also offer beverages such as Fruit H20, Gatorade, etc. that are permitted by the schoo9ls.

The breakfast menu has undergone major changes, says the graduate of The Ohio State University. “We are offering a warm “Fresh Pick” daily plus an assortment of cereal, a granola bar, fruity yogurt and string cheese.

If a student doesn’t like the Fresh Pick, they have the option of two other items. “We want everyone to eat breakfast so we are giving them a choice they didn’t have before. I feel we have also added items kids like to eat that are healthy.”

Burns is using the school website to share information about the cafeteria, provide forms for free and reduced lunches and links to information on healthy eating and wellness. School menus will also be posted online. In fact, parents can sign up to have menus emailed to them.

“There will even be healthy recipes posted on the site,” Burns stated. “I want parents, teachers and students to snoop on the site. I am really excited about it and hope they will be also.”

Burns is a graduate of Carrollton High School and says she has fond memories of the cafeteria and what was served.

“I want students to have those memories as well,” she said.

The work has been exhausting but it has been worth it, she says. She has a simple goal: increase participation in the lunch program in all Carrollton schools.

“Last year only about 30 percent of the students ate in the cafeteria. My goal is to increase that to 50 percent this year,” she said.

“Asked what she was going to do if the new menu really takes off and students come rushing back to the cafeteria, she said the staff will be prepared.

“We are ready,” she said. “I already talked to the staff (which includes four new part-time cooks that work three and one-half hours per day), and if that happens we will welcome them to the cafeteria.”

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