Adding health and zest to school lunch menus

By Dick Mason, The Observer June 03, 2013 10:32 am

Chef Garrett Berdan, left, offers some advice as Levon Baremore, front, Sheryl Payton, middle, and Patty Toombs, right, cook up a lunchroom meal item. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Chef Garrett Berdan, left, offers some advice as Levon Baremore, front, Sheryl Payton, middle, and Patty Toombs, right, cook up a lunchroom meal item. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)

NORTH POWDER — Porcupines will soon be a part of school lunch menus in Northeast Oregon. 

Porcupine sliders that is. The entree is a tasty mini sandwich made from beef, brown rice and spinach. The sliders are among the new entrees local students will be enjoying with increasing frequency at lunch, thanks to a state-sponsored nutrition program called “Confident Cooking the My Plate Way,” a culinary and nutrition training program sponsored by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Dairy Council. 

The program, which was the focus of a training session at North Powder Elementary School Friday, teaches food service cooks how to boost the taste and nutrition level of lunches served in public schools by taking familiar staples and adding a new dimension.   

“We take something which is a little familiar and add a twist,” said Anne Goetze, director of nutrition affairs for the Oregon Dairy Council.

Goetze helped provide instruction to 25 public school cooks from throughout the region in the kitchen and cafeteria at North Powder Elementary. The cooks were busy cooking in the school’s spacious new kitchen and clearly enjoying preparing new entrees that are low in fat, salt and sugar.

“Things are rocking in the kitchen,” said Vicky Brown, director of the North Powder School District’s food service program.

The “Confident Cooking the My Plate Way” program started about four years ago. The training session conducted was the fourth in Oregon this year and the only one in Eastern Oregon. Goetze said students have been receptive to the new foods the program is making available.

“People don’t think kids will like new things but they do,” she said.

Brown credits the program with boosting the number of North Powder students who buy lunch each day at school. North Powder served an average of 170 lunches a day when the program started four years ago, but today the average tops 200.

The program is tied in with the state’s Farm to School program, which strives to get schools to serve as much locally grown and produced food as possible. This program is easier to operate in the Willamette Valley than Northeast Oregon, said Rick Sherman, the Oregon Department of Education’s Farm to School coordinator. 

Sherman, who attended Friday’s session in North Powder, explained that it is harder to run the program here because it has a growing season for fruit and vegetables much shorter than the Willamette Valley.

“The Willamette Valley has a bountiful harvest,” Sherman said.

He said that to accommodate this difference, schools in Northeast Oregon are allowed to count anything grown or produced within a 100-mile radius as part of the Farm to School program.

Goetze credits the Farm to School program with heightening students’ awareness of what is being grown around them.  

“It makes students more aware of neighborhood fruits and vegetables,” she said.

This may spark their interest in the foods and make them more likely to begin eating them, he said. 

Much of the instruction was provided by Garrett Berdan, a chef with the Cascade Culinary Institute in Bend. He shared recipes he created for sesame ginger broccoli, chili-roasted sweet potatoes and rosemary garlic roasted potatoes. Berdan has been providing instruction since the food preparation program started about four years ago. 

Brown credits Berdan and others in the program with ultimately helping to get students to become interested in eating new and healthier foods. 

“We want to re-educate their palates and broaden their horizons,” Brown said.

Contact Dick Mason at 541-786-5386 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Dick on Twitter @lgoMason.