Looking for a good lunch_ try usd 437

Among Topeka’s eating establishments is a gem our readers may not know much about — the kitchens of Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437.

This week, officials from the US Department of Agriculture visited Auburn-Washburn to promote school breakfast grants. Battered chicken fingers Afterward, they toured the kitchens and saw first-hand the handiwork of that district’s food service professionals.

As one visitor noted part-way through the tour, USD 437’s push to offer fresher, more attractive meals fits a nationwide trend, but within that trend, this district is “head and shoulders” above many others. What is it that makes Auburn-Washburn’s kitchens so appealing?

If you’re a USD 437 student, don’t assume the pineapple on your lunch tray is from a can. Honey mustard dipping sauce for chicken fingers In the chilled pantries of Washburn Rural High School, whole pineapples are stashed away, waiting to be chopped in the school’s food processor.

Nearby are other equipment key to serving fresh ingredients, too: A deli meat slicer, a blast chiller, a rotisserie oven. Breaded chicken fingers recipe This school purchases raw meats — chickens, turkey breasts, etc — cooks them, cools them and cuts them for a wide variety of meals.

“Each time the price goes up on something, we’ve got to figure out how to make it ourselves,” explains Stan Vallis, director of food service for this 6,300-student partly suburban, partly rural district.

That’s one reason Auburn-Washburn invests in equipment to prepare many ingredients and cook many recipes in-house. Chicken fingers in the oven Another is the district’s emphasis on freshness and what’s known as clean labeling — cutting back on preservatives and artificial ingredients.

“If we can make it cheaper than we can buy it for — and better — then that’s something we want to do,” says Vallis, who brought to this job ample food management experience acquired during 25 years in the restaurant business.

Vallis is constantly on the hunt for options. Best baked chicken fingers Last spring, for example, he tested out a purchase of overstock lettuce from a local aquaponic farm. Honey mustard chicken fingers The lettuce was about 60 cents cheaper per pound than other suppliers, but required in-house processing.

Such advantages and disadvantages are the factors he and his staff weigh regularly as they search for the optimal combination of purchases and equipment that will let them serve fresher, tastier meals within budget.

Scratch and semi-scratch cooking and baking offer multiple benefits. What to serve with chicken fingers USD 437 staff have found repeatedly that they can develop tastier and fresher versions of popular meal items for less money per serving than pre-made options.

They save about a third of the price per serving by making their own pizzas and calzones, for example. Deep fry chicken fingers The savings help cover the labor required for the cooking and baking.

If that sounds surprising, other schools have reported similar experiences. Best chicken fingers restaurant A 2014 study of California schools found no significant difference in total costs for meals from scratch compared to pre-made equivalents.

Auburn-Washburn has a few critical advantages to this end. How to make chicken fingers at home Most notably, there are full kitchens in all of its schools, with bakery and produce areas, cooking equipment, walk-in freezers and more. How to make fried chicken fingers In some districts, schools have more limited kitchen space and equipment, resulting in more pre-made purchases or the need to transport meals from one building’s kitchen to other schools.

Photo: When purchasing pre-made meat products such as fish sticks or these chicken nuggets, USD 437 opts for whole-muscle versions, meaning whole pieces of chicken breast or flounder.

When Vallis visited a manufacturer in search of new ovens, he lifted the metal casing off the equipment before agreeing to purchase it, and took a good peek inside. Easy homemade chicken fingers He wanted to be sure that if something broke, he would be able to find replacement parts at a local hardware store instead of ordering from a far-flung factory.

When it comes to foods, the district tries product after product in search of the right fit. Oven baked chicken fingers recipe Last school year the middle school tried at least half a dozen chicken patties, the high school easily tested a dozen types of French fries. Cooking chicken fingers The staff want products that are healthy, tasty and popular with the students.

Photo: USD 437 staff tried out a dozen frozen French fry options last school year in search of healthy and tasty products that crisp up nicely during baking and without needing to go into a fryer.

When the district purchases pre-made protein products, such as chicken nuggets, chicken strips and fish sticks, they opt for whole-muscle versions — meaning solid pieces of flesh instead of machine-separated, reconstituted pieces.

Auburn-Washburn has advantages that help with its purchases, too. How to fry chicken fingers When negotiating to place ingredient and other food orders, its size and geographic location can offer timing flexibility and pricing advantages over more rural districts, for example. How to make chicken fingers in the oven Auburn-Washburn staff can decide on a different brand of French fry and roll it out a week later, something many districts might struggle with.

Photo: Students eat lunch at Washburn Rural High School. Homemade chicken fingers deep fried USDA-approved lunches for high-schoolers must include 1 cup of vegetables and 1 cup of fruit, in addition to protein and whole grains.

Auburn-Washburn tested six recipes for homemade mac and cheese, for example, all to no avail. Pictures of chicken fingers The kids, it seems, wanted store-bought boxed versions that don’t meet USDA guidelines for healthy eating in schools.

Those guidelines have drawn criticism in recent years as they became stricter. Healthy homemade chicken fingers Critics claimed children would throw their lunches away or refuse to eat at school.

Vallis says that’s not happening at USD 437. Chicken fingers recept He points to the lunchroom trash cans as proof. Chicken fingers rezept When students approach them after lunch to toss leftovers, their trays are largely empty. Chicken fingers ingredients By the end of a high school lunch period that served about 500 students, the crowd had left behind five half-full trash bags full mostly of empty packaging.

This is a balancing act that allows the district to avoid spending general fund dollars on its kitchens. 4 fingers chicken recipe Sustainability requires in part enticing enough students to eat at school so that USDA reimbursements and other revenue cover the costs of producing quality meals.

USD 437’s food service, which also does upwards of $70,000 a year in catering for school-related events, manages to pay its own bills for food and purchases of new equipment, staff wages and benefits.

At the same time, employee turnover has dropped substantially, from about 45 percent in Vallis’ first year to less than 10 percent. Are chicken fingers healthy The department has more than 100 part and full-time employees.

Food service staff in each school are encouraged to take initiative, and they do. Chicken strips recipe healthy They research products, tweak dishes that don’t win over students, introduce menu items and develop their own recipes.

Washburn Rural Middle School’s pea salad is one example. Baked chicken strips no breading Its creator is one of the school’s cooks, Lisa Buchanan, who combined ranch, carrots, onions and peas into a side dish that proved a hit with the kids.