Getting students excited about what’s on their lunch trays takes a mix of the right ingredients.
Plus, it requires tapping into youthful curiosity, said Mo Shamali, child nutrition director for Kentwood and Kelloggsville public schools.
“Kids are savvy,” he said, while demonstrating to his staff how to prepare falafel, a traditional Arab food, with garbanzo beans, parsley, onions and spices. “They want to try new things.”
Earlier that morning, he got fancy with sweet potatoes, showing how they work in nachos, hamburgers and hash browns. He and the staff completed 20 recipes.
Motivating the Staff
Shamali, a 23-year year veteran of the Kentwood food service program, leads regular workshops for the two district’s food service staff. The sessions introduce recipes and ideas centered around a food theme or ingredient with a goal of bringing them to the lunch menu in creative, delicious ways.
His most recent subject: legumes and potatoes. He challenged staff to break into teams of two to prepare several recipes which had to include beans: The Walking Taco, Mexican Layered Bean Dip, Sloppy Bean Joes, Mexican Potato Bowl, Santiago Black Bean Subs and Potato Soft Taco.
After working on presentation, the tasting began, with staff ranking which recipe students would like most. “Keep in mind when you taste it, you want to think of taste, presentation and which ones you think will succeed in the district,” he said. “Remember when you were a teenager.”
More than 70 languages are represented in Kentwood Public Schools, which means many different culinary customs and tastes and endless food possibilities. Also, he has to comply with National School Lunch nutrition standards that require meals have a meat or meat alternative, bread or grain, fruit, vegetable and milk. “We want to have not only diversity in the culture we have here but also in the service we provide,” he said.
Shamali’s expertise lends itself to high-level and creative training. A native of Jordan, Shamali served as chef at Bentham’s Riverfront Restaurant in the Amway Grand Plaza before beginning his career in the district.
Last year, he introduced students to lamb prepared in baked kofta (balls of minced or ground meat, usually beef or lamb, mixed with spices and/or onions), seasoned ground lamb, patties and calzones.
He said his goal is to offer fresh, local and attractive dishes while expanding student’s palates and providing proper nutrition. Fresh produce and a salad bar are always available in the cafeteria.
Staff members are happy to contribute. “It’s always nice to try new things and be a little creative,” said Kelloggsville Middle School food service staff member Ruth Sessions. “It’s good to work with another school and see how they do things.”
“It’s nice to get a group of ladies together and collaborate,” said Julie Reams, Kentwood food service employee. “Mo’s experience steers us in the right direction.
Christy Haven, Kentwood child nutrition services supervisor, said she enjoyed the variety of ingredients. “It came down to making it as creative and eye appealing as we could,” she said. “This is a good example of what we can do.”