Warhill High School showcases new lunch menu items

The Virginia Gazette

WILLIAMSBURG – Saturday's food festival at Warhill High School produced a spectacle most unfamiliar: Student and parents lining up to sample cafeteria food menu items.

The lunchroom fare folks were sampling included new and proposed division-wide menu items such as Jamaican jerk chicken, strawberry spinach salad and kale soup.

Parents and students even had the opportunity to vote on which of the proposed food items they would like to see on lunch menus next school year.

"It's good to show parents the types of food being served to their children at school," Jane Haley, Williamsburg-James City County's food services supervisor said. "By letting parents sample their child's school lunch, we can refute those negative preconceptions many parents have about cafeteria menu items."

Haley said upgrades to the schools' lunch menus were part of a division-wide initiative to introduce healthy menu items compliant with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, as well as appetizing choices, more akin with restaurant-style cuisine presentation.

Schools nationwide must be compliant with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by first lady Michelle Obama and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. The law permitted the United States Department of Agriculture to set standards for food items sold at schools. Under the law, schools received resources to use fresh produce from local farms and gardens and guidelines for increasing nutritional quality of food provided by the USDA.

WJCC schools' are already taking making use of ingredients grown by local farmers. Harvest soup, one of the proposed menu items for next school year, uses fresh kale grown at Kelrae Farm in Toano.

Amy Lazev, supervisor of the School Health Initiative Program — the organization partnered with WJCC Public Schools and funded by the Williamsburg Health Foundation that promotes healthy eating and active lifestyle habits — said the school division has even worked with area chefs who train and assist cafeteria staff.

Marie Homer, the school's consulting chef, said just in the past year, parents have told her how surprised they were to find how sophistocated their children's palates have gotten.

Homer also said cafeteria staff are being taught how to prepare fresh ingredients at a fast pace, meaning that food preparation methods in school cafeterias are also becoming more sophistocated.

Pam Dannon, the school's registered dietician, said cafeteria staff prepare the new menu items using a method known as speed scratch cooking. Speed scratch cooking is a method of cooking that adds pre-cooked food items to fresh, made-from-scratch ingredients.

Another facet of the school division's health and fitness initiatives is the Wellness Integration Program, which works with elementary teachers to integrate physical activity and nutrition education into Standards of Learning lessons.

Tammy Underwood, a wellness integration specialist who works with students in WJCC, said the program has introduced students to regular exercise by helping them understand that "it's OK to move."

"I love my job," Underwood said with a smile. "What we do really does make a difference in these kids' lives."

As she chopped fresh red peppers in Warhill's cafeteria kitchen, Homer said she is confident students will enjoy the new menu items and hopes that someday, 100 percent of students will participate in the school lunch program entirely because of the food's taste.

If the success of Saturday's Food Festival at Warhill High School were solely dependent on the number of times taste-testers exclaimed, "I wish we had this food when I was in school," then Warhill High School may achieve that goal.

McMillan can be reached by phone at 757-298-4136.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette