School District Moves to Make Foods More Appealing with New Chef

At their November 18 meeting, the Board of Education approved the hiring of Ramon Solorzano as the first-ever school chef in the district.

“We know that nutrition is so important in helping kids focus in school and over the last year we have been greatly improving our menus to offer more nutritious foods that kids like to eat,“ said Nutrition Services Director Suzanne Morales, R.D., M.P.H., S.N.S. “Hiring a chef who can help us build greater food pairings, do more scratch cooking, and bring in more seasonal foods was a natural next step.”

Solorzano’s experience is global. In addition to holding a degree in hotel restaurant management, he has traveled across Canada and Latin America in 12 different countries advising over 100 restaurants as the Global Culinary Manager for Brinker International. He was also the training manager for Chili’s Grill and Bar in addition to serving as kitchen manager for the Grand Lux Café, a restaurant with many locations across the country offering casual global cuisine that was created by the founder of the “Cheescake Factory” restaurants for the Venetian Hotel, Resort and Casino. He was also the corporate chef for The Counter restaurants opening global locations in such places as Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

Adding daily entrée salads to the elementary menu, eliminating enriched grains and replacing them with whole grains, plus adding more fruits and vegetables are just a few of the many changes that the district has made in recent years. The district is also piloting customized salads that can be ordered online ahead of time. There is already a selection of daily entrée salads with proteins. At the middle school level, students are also enjoying “bowl entrees” with all-white chicken as well as whole grain rice. Reducing sodium while increasing nutritionally-sound food has been the goal.

Are the changes working?

“We are seeing a year-to-year increase in the number of students choosing Nutrition Services,” said Morales. The district is now serving more than 800 additional lunches per day just at the elementary level compared to last year during the same time period.

The district is not only focusing on more nutritious food but also expanding its reach. This summer, a “Seamless Summer Meal” program was offered for the first time to provide free summer meals to low-income families, many of whom are living at poverty level according to federal income guidelines. This district served 13,000 more meals over last year during the summer months. The district continues to serve after-school snacks at six schools for more than 600 students who may not eat until late in the evening. Breakfast is also offered at 22 schools.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Morales stated. “The aim is to change the way school lunch is perceived in the PYLUSD and offer students healthy, tasty options they enjoy.”

Expanding fresh and nutritious meal offerings that adhere to or exceed current state and federal regulations is one of the district’s driving initiatives in the district’s strategic plan called the “PYLUSD Advantage.” The purpose of this initiative is to foster a culture that promotes emotional health, safety and well-being of students, staff and parents.

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