School food gets health guidelines

June 27, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

The kids might eat it just for the pretty shade of purple.

But the creamy blackberry sherbet nabbed first place in a low-fat cooking contest for Carroll County "cafeteria ladies."

It won because it is lower in fat and sugar than most ice cream and it uses a cheap U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity: canned blackberry puree, said Elaine Smith, a dietitian with the state Department of Education who served as a judge.

Carroll County students might find spa food on their trays starting next fall.

New federal regulations restrict fat and sodium in school meals, and place emphasis on nutrients rather than specific menu items.

"We haven't had changes like this for 50 years, at least not regulatory changes," said Linda Van Rooy, also a state schools dietitian.

"One of the complex issues is, we have got to get the calories high enough for growing children -- 700 to 800 calories for lunch," she said. "That's hard to do without fat. So there is going to be some sweet stuff, more bread, more rice, more pasta.

"It's going to mean a lot of training and a lot of changing attitudes," she added.

Baltimore-area schools already have been trying to trim fat, and Howard County schools have been meeting the new regulation of 30 percent or fewer calories from fat, local officials say.

All systems will eventually teach the new rules to food service workers -- in Carroll they still call themselves cafeteria ladies.

But Carroll is the first to train workers in the new regulations released just this month, Ms. Van Rooy said.

It appears they had fun, too, she added.

The Carroll cooks kicked off a week of classes on lower-fat cooking with a recipe contest last Monday, followed by a feast that rivaled a Saturday-night church potluck.

Instead of Maryland fried chicken and fries, they had "Un-Fried Chicken" and roasted potatoes, two low-fat recipes from the book "In the Kitchen with Rosie," by Oprah Winfrey's personal, spa-trained chef, Rosie Daley.

Elmer Wolfe Elementary School cooks adapted the recipes for a crowd.

The "cream" soups were made with nonfat milk, the salad dressings with yogurt.

Shredded barbecued chicken filled buns that might otherwise have held beef or pork.

Salmon cakes used a canned USDA commodity in place of expensive Maryland blue crab. They were baked instead of fried, saving fat and money.

The cooks at Carrolltowne Elementary adapted the blackberry sherbet from a recipe they found in one of the many books and magazines they read, said manager Anita White.

Children have already given their approval, when the cooks let them sample trial batches, Ms. White said.

"It was like, 'What is this?' When they tried it, they liked it," she said.

Eulalia Muschik, supervisor of food service in Carroll, has been training workers in lower-fat cooking the past four years.

Although the regulations are new, dietitians have known they were coming, Ms. Van Rooy said.

Ms. Muschik went a step further and started incorporating the healthier guidelines before she had to, Ms. Van Rooy said.

VTC In addition to the very practical nature of the classes in Carroll -- talking about specific foods and how they meet the guidelines -- Ms. Van Rooy liked the emphasis on marketing the meals to children and parents.

"They placed a strong emphasis on who the customer was," she said.

No matter how many un-fried and un-creamed delicacies the cafeteria ladies concoct, Ms. Muschik expects the customers to prefer the perennial trio of pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers.

Those items are bought from vendors because they're too labor-intensive to make from scratch for 600 or more children. Still, she said, the vendors are trying to make their products lower in fat.

The cafeteria ladies add their own touch: they slice green peppers, zucchini and broccoli to top the cheese pizzas.

Ms. Muschik says children in Carroll County love broccoli.

Her customers in Montgomery County schools, where she worked before coming to Carroll, hated it.

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